This post from the folks at 18F does a great job of covering why you should default to a responsive web site rather than a native mobile app. While tools like cordova and react native decrease the effort required to build a native application, the ongoing maintenance costs shouldn’t be underestimated.  It is easier to outline the reasons why you should build a mobile application, because there are far more reasons why you should not. From the post I mentioned above:

  • extreme bandwidth constraints or offline operation
  • heavy use of sensors that are not web standards
  • third party interactions

I’d add:

  • branding needs, where you have a compelling application and expect to be be installed on the user’s home screen. Expect to spend $$$ on marketing the app
  • extreme performance. This might be graphics/video, battery or network performance

and, via twitterSara Bates added:

  • push notifications, (if used wisely)

If your application doesn’t meet these criteria, I’d think long and hard about launching with a native mobile application, and think about what you could do for your business with the extra budget.

You can likely prototype your app with a responsive website and then build a native mobile app when you know more and/or have user feedback. This can be a great way to economize, because you can leverage outsourced mobile app teams and point them at the prototype as a living requirements document.

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