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Mobile App or Mobile Web

Which is more appropriate for Travel Industry?

Since the launch of iPhone the mobile industry has been in a flux. It has witnessed lot of innovations since then. Today, more choices are available to the user than ever before which has resulted in a fragmented market. It has complicated matters for every organization which wants to reach out to their consumers through mobile. There are too many platforms to be supported and there is no standardization. Some industry segments have not made any significant move to reach out to their consumer through mobile platform and are playing a waiting game – waiting for the technology to mature. However, travel industry cannot afford to do that.

Mobile phone is a personal device – more personal than the “personal” computer. You might lend your PC to coworker or a friend for few hours but can you imagine lending your mobile phone?

Travel is also a personal activity. Nobody else can do it for you. Unlike retail shopping you cannot get your friend or family member to do it for you. Though you might get somebody to do the planning for you, it is necessary for you to be aware of the logistics when you travel.

So, the match between travel and mobile seems to be a match made in heaven where a personal device meets a personal activity. Naturally, there is a lot of interest in travel industry on reaching out to the customer through the mobile. In this fragmented technology scenario, one of the following two strategies can be followed.

  1. Take the shortcut and extend your web site and make it accessible from the browser in the mobile phone
  2. Do it the hard way by incurring the cost of developing a native application for multiple mobile platforms

Advantages of Browser Based Mobile Application (Mobile Web)

  • The variability across different types of handset is minimal compared to mobile application. You have to take care of only browser specific differences and the difference of screen size – unlike mobile app where the total programming environment including the programming language is different
  • No need for the user to download and install any application on the handset – this can be a stumbling block for first time user
  • The existing web site with modifications can be extended to the mobile – unlike mobile app where the application has to be develop ground up

Advantages of Native Mobile Application (Mobile App)

  • The application can be location aware – unlike a mobile web application which do not have access the location information
  • Offline working is possible – availability of internet connection and bandwidth cannot yet be taken for granted, especially for a traveler
  • Can access the native mobile functionality like phone book, calendar & camera – for an application to be effective on a device which is personal, it needs to interface with functionalities which gives the device the personal flavor

What about a Hybrid Approach?

There are several possibilities:

  1. Invoke the browser for the native application and show a specific web page – the problem is you lose control
  2. Make a browser instance within your application and show the page – you have better control but all mobiles do not support this feature

None of these alternatives reduce the headache of having to maintain different applications for different platform.

A way forward in the future may be to access handset specific functionality from the browser through browser plug-in? Please correct me if I am wrong, but to the best of my knowledge it is not possible yet.

What is the Future?

Though predicting the future is always hazardous, the following can be predicted without too much risk.

  • Smart phones will become much more powerful
  • Network access speeds will become faster
  • Touch screen and multi-touch will become standard
  • Mobile will remain a personal device and it will become an extension of us

Unlike PC, which can be thought of as a dumb terminal accessing applications in the cloud, mobile phones cannot be treated that way. It already behaves as an extension of our memory and it is also going to act as our identity.

So, the conclusion – I do not see native mobile applications going away – especially when we are on the move!

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More Stories By Udayan Banerjee

Udayan Banerjee is CTO at NIIT Technologies Ltd, an IT industry veteran with more than 30 years' experience. He blogs at http://setandbma.wordpress.com.
The blog focuses on emerging technologies like cloud computing, mobile computing, social media aka web 2.0 etc. It also contains stuff about agile methodology and trends in architecture. It is a world view seen through the lens of a software service provider based out of Bangalore and serving clients across the world. The focus is mostly on...

  • Keep the hype out and project a realistic picture
  • Uncover trends not very apparent
  • Draw conclusion from real life experience
  • Point out fallacy & discrepancy when I see them
  • Talk about trends which I find interesting