Should you have a mobile application like LinkedIn?

To build a native or cross-platform app?

Both LinkedIn and Facebook decided to develop the mobile versions of their websites as mobile applications—software that can be downloaded and installed on a smartphone. We call these apps “native” because they were developed with one operating system in mind, like iOS, or Android. Native apps are only distributed on one platform, like the App Store, or Google Play. A native application can’t be used on a platform other than the one it was developed for.

These (native) mobile apps are different from cross-platform mobile applications: a cross-platform mobile app (or hybrid app) is developed to work on all operating systems by using your smartphone’s web browser with technologies like HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. These applications are available on all platforms and can reach larger audiences than native apps destined for a specific platform.

LinkedIn and Facebook chose to develop native mobile applications. And yet, both of these two California companies started off with cross-platform applications before changing their development strategy a few years ago. At the TechCrunch Disrupt 2012 conference in San Francisco, Mark Zuckerberg went so far as to say that developing a cross-platform application rather than a native application was Facebook’s biggest mistake.

UX and mobile apps

How can we explain this trend in the field? Should you follow LinkedIn’s lead and develop a native application, rather than a cross-platform app?

These two firms’ decisions reflect the increasing importance accorded to user experience (UX), rather than a wholesale repudiation of cross-platform apps. Even if the two types of application provide access to native phone features (camera, GPS and notifications, for example), native apps often provide noticeably better browsing quality and responsiveness.

The willingness to improve user experience (UX), ease of use, and performance explains these firms’ choices. Facebook gave up on its cross-platform app specifically because of performance: scrolling down the news feed was slow and jerky. The same reasons led LinkedIn to develop a native app. This trend in app development can be explained by the desire to improve the user’s experience with the app.

Current mobile trends

Whether it’s on iOS or Android, a native application is faster and easier to use than a cross-platform application. In addition to an improved user experience, native apps are generally more successful in user flow and performance.

While LinkedIn and Facebook’s decisions can’t necessarily be applied to every business with their specific mobile strategies, their choices can shed light on the current trends in mobile app development.

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