Apples and pears? Deploying apps and responsive design within a mobile architecture

by | Dec 9, 2012 | Articles

Piers Lea, CEO of Line Communications, uncovers the arguments and key choices around deploying apps and responsive design:

Over 76% of the 600 companies surveyed in 2011 by Towards Maturity planned to implement mobile learning in the next two years. The results of the recently released 2012 Towards Maturity Benchmark Survey show an even further increase towards apps and mobile.

Meanwhile, our own research within the defence, automotive and medical sectors indicate that the more intimate relationships users tend to forge with their mobile devices (as opposed to their desktop PCs) make people far likelier to use them for a variety of knowledge-related work activities, ranging from learning to fast information search. Mobile smartphones and tablets, it seems, are becoming a major driver for the uptake of technology-supported learning and communications in large organisations now. However, they are also widening the scope of what we actually can do.

As organisations gear up to support this spectrum of knowledge-related activities at enterprise scale, they find they have to make choices about their development route. Some would present this as a fork in the road – and tell them that they have to choose between a ‘native app’ route and the possible alternatives offered by responsive web design. However, we think this is a false dichotomy. Really, it’s like comparing apples with pears. Your mobile strategy may need to include both, depending on what it is you need to do.

So let’s take a look at the key choices around deploying native apps and responsive design.

Two routes, two fruits?

First a brief definition of terms:

‘Native’ apps – Acquired through an app store, these are designed to use the native capabilities of each device such as geolocation, video, etc. and in the past have had to be developed separately for each device/OS (although tools now exist to make this easier).

Mobile optimised website
– Accessed through the device’s browser, this route involves compromises on use of native functionality but does not require tailoring for individual devices. Using the relatively new practice of responsive web design made possible by HTML5, you can create screens that automatically reshape themselves according to the user’s particular device.

The table below gives a summary of advantages and drawbacks to each route:

Unfortunately, the situation is a little more complicated than this summary might suggest. There are many types of ‘hybrid’ app that combine elements of both routes. What often appears like an app, in that it is published through an app store, can be merely the ‘front end’ for what is actually a mobile-optimised website. Similarly, many native apps will draw much of their content from live web sources, meaning that the app does not have to be republished to refresh or update the content (our own  LINEstream platform works like this).

UX is king

An important thing to hold on to, however, is the superior user experience offered by native apps, which even hybrid approaches will struggle to match if they are essentially web-based. The differences here are sometimes subtle but also non-trivial. The recent history of e-learning has showed that compromising on user experience – as was sometimes the case in the rush to adoption of rapid e-learning – can be a fast route to failure, with the learners rejecting the learning.

Anyone with a smartphone or tablet ‘knows’ how apps deliver a different experience to accessing the web. Our experience is that this makes a big difference to whether people will return. When they do return – and the app is already updated – it provides a sense of immediacy and responsiveness that really is the ‘best of both worlds’.

The fact that it works off-line as well is a crucial point. With the best will in the world connectivity is not always possible and it is in those ‘unconnected’ times when you might have a moment to concentrate.

A map of the territory

Taking into account everything I have said so far, it will now be plain why LINE has felt it essential to create a sophisticated offering for mobile learning and communications that comprehends both development routes. (You would want your greengrocer to sell both apples AND pears!)

For responsive web design LINE offers a framework called the Responsive Content Framework (RCF). This is written in HTML5 and you can read more about it here.

For native app creation and publishing we offer LINEstream. This gives you the superior user experience of native apps, but also, through its hybrid nature, the immediacy of instant updates.

  • Usable in-house after one days’ training so that you can scale speed and the power of authorship throughout the organisation
  • Created from a platform, so scalable across your organisation, agencies and SMEs
  • Consistent use of brand and navigation
  • Secure (for confidential information)
  • Hybrid, so no need to download the app again to get updates out across the network.

Some examples of use of both RCF and LINEstream/native apps

RCF:

  • A large pharmaceutical sector client needing compliance training delivered to mobile (inc Blackberry) and desktop. Mostly to people at desk or in Wi-Fi area
  • A global accounting firm with existing, secure mobile distribution with large Blackberry population

LINEstream/native app:

  • Mobile ‘hub’ for automotive dealers worldwide training dealer staff but providing easy means to demonstrate difficult-to-show technologies to customers whether in or out of Wi-Fi or mobile signal – but constantly updating
  • Training for service personnel in Afghanistan via a two-player or multiplayer game on tablets or providing instant Afghan (spoken) phrases in 2 dialects
  • Procedure in hospitals for dealing with rarely seen pelvic breaks of fractures via the IPAD.

Conclusion

Mobile is a critical channel in meeting the need for speed and the increasing complexity that today’s organisations have to deal with. Mobile can provide that speed – with appropriate tools, workflow and services in place – but you also need a flexibile capability to manage complex knowledge environments.

Sometimes you will need to produce fast apps, with a low shelf-life, that you can publish quickly across all platforms to get a message out. At other times you will need to craft immersive and highly personalised user experiences for particular groups. Your mobile capability should be able to handle these extremes – and all points in between.

Meeting these needs at scale means taking a strategic view and making some critical judgements about how you start to put the capability within your organisation to make mobile business-as-usual a genuinely powerful channel. This will involve a mixture of ‘DIY’ – what you can do yourself, so that you can turn things around quickly – and what products and services you need from an agency such as LINE.

We are happy to help you on this journey.

Piers Lea – CEO LINE Communications

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