As user experience with apps continues to evolve and improve (be it native or Web-based), both brands and developers are considering more and more a “hybrid” solution as an option for creating a smooth, multi-platform app strategy.  

Developing native apps (those that sit within an app store) can be expensive, and they only target one specific platform: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, etc. But, as consumer engagement with apps can be significant, brands know they need to be in this space and are looking for more cost-effective options. Hybrid apps built using HTML5 technology appear to be an increasingly interesting solution. 

Brands across a wide variety of categories, including newsmedia companies, are slowly but surely gravitating toward these hybrid apps, because they can extend the reach of programmes that were originally created for iOS but now need to address other platforms. U.S.-based AppMobi reports 40% of the apps created with HTML5 are media, 35% are games, and 15% retail. That’s 100 million hybrid HTML5 apps on its platform, with more than 50,000 HTML5 developers actively building apps — more than five times the number developing HTML5 hybrid apps a year ago. That’s a big shift!

Many new apps are now more likely to be developed in HTML5 hybrid form. That way, brands are able to develop once and still be able to deliver an app across platforms, rather than try to justify the cost of developing a second native app for just one market. (One option could be to look at Apple’s iOS as the prime market for development as native, and then look at hybrid as the way to cover all other platforms.)  

The crucial thing is user experience, which, as HTML5 continues to evolve, is improving both for developers and consumers. At The Telegraph Media Group here in London, we have been somewhat concerned that HTML5 as a sole source is not quite yet delivering a premium service. And the one thing we have tried to do here is just that — deliver a premium service. More Rolls Royce than Ferrari! We try to do the basic things really well, without feeling the need for all the “bells and whistles” that the app process allows for. (Does your audience want that?) We in London are a premium brand and if we expect people to pay for our premium content, they rightly expect a premium service. HTML5 doesn’t quite do that at this moment. It can be a little “clunky.” 

However, due to the continuing advancements in mobile operating systems, better/higher speed connectivity, and the rise of browser usage and technology developments, hybrid apps are now starting able to deliver a somewhat higher quality user experience. 

If the advancement of HTML5 technology continues (and at such a fast pace), hybrid apps can help us deliver many more cost-effective app solutions for our audiences. They can, for instance, deliver a higher ROI (return on investment) than native apps because their reach is so much wider. 

In short, native apps are developed for a specific device, need to be downloaded and then stored on the device. Web apps are built purely with Web technologies. Meanwhile, hybrid apps use a mix of both. 

The only caution is that despite the benefits of hybrids, they are not going to be the solution for all marketers in every circumstance. And it’s possible hybrid apps will eventually be replaced by fully Web-based apps in the next few years as technologies advance even further. Time will tell. 

Final thought on the Google tablet

With all this talk of HTML5, what is the latest in the native marketplace? Well, Google in June announced its first tablet computer. It significantly undercuts Apple’s iPad in price, and the Google Nexus 7 aims to “mass market” these new devices in the same way Amazon’s Kindle made e-readers widely popular. 

Google sees inexpensive computers running the living room and the lives of millions. Google wants to be the company that makes the software used on all of them. 

The 7-inch device is not, however, a direct competitor for the iPad. Set to launch this summer, it aims to take a different, cheaper route and leave alone the more premium end of the market. 

Today there are 400 million (Google) Android devices, with one million new ones added each day.

Google’s new approach is to improve how all Android devices run by offering a software upgrade called Jelly Bean (for phones and tablets). The aim is that people who use an Android phone will enjoy the experience and want to complete the circle with an Android tablet.

Other features, for instance, include devices able to learn when you are commuting and automatically suggest a better route or tell you when the next train leaves. If you’ve searched the net for a flight, you can now be kept updated on its status, etc.

All of this points toward Google aiming to put its set of products together in a more intelligent way. But, similar to Microsoft and its new surface tablet on Windows 8, Google needs a big chunk of the software developer market who will build for them. 

Another case of time will tell. 

More as things emerge on this blog.

P.S. Make sure you download INMA’s “Emerging Mobile Strategies for Publishers” report. Available to INMA members for download on this Web site now! Essential reading for anyone involved in mobile platforms.