That’s a really good question, because if you get it wrong then its unlikely you’ll get the funding to go back and try again…
It’s also a question with no simple answer.
It just depends.
To help explain, we asked the Labs’ three app makers to tell us why they built their app the way they did:
Now, some of their reasons may appear to conflict. Please don’t panic. This just reflects the diversity of views on how to go about making the right decision for your app. The key thing for you to do is to challenge and test your assumptions about what platform to build for and generate some reliable evidence of why.
Why did you choose to build for your chosen platform/s?
Doc Ready: During our co-design process, we made a load of interesting discoveries, but one stuck in the mind of one of our developers. It was something like “No, I don’t want an app. because I don’t want people to see it on my phone screen and know I’m using Doc Ready.” Evidence showed that the kind of app we were proposing was not dependent or likely to be any more popular in app format.
At around the same time, Tom Loosemore from the Government Digital Service was writing “We’re not ‘appy” – a stellar post on the reasons why not to assume that an app was the solution. We felt this validated our approach
Moodbug: The advice we got from app developers and the Innovation Labs experts was that building for multiple platforms is a bad strategy until you have your app absolutely perfect as it increases the cost of making changes
Also the budget would not have allowed us to build a high quality product for more than one native platform (and we needed native platform functionality for the contact integration.)
In Hand: In Hand is available on both Android and iOS. We chose this because it was easier to ensure the product was accessible offline. While apps can use HTML5 (web-based) offline storage, our developers’ expertise was mobile apps so it made sense to use traditional native app tech. It also means that we have a dedicated and personal app environment that is designed and works perfectly in the palm of people’s hands
How did you come to the decision?
Doc Ready: An Android phone can use a web version of a Doc Ready, and an iPhone can use a web version of Doc Ready, but neither can use an app for the other platform. Our instinct was that wider access was better and nothing in Doc Ready’s core features dictated it had to be native.
Moodbug: We spoke to young people in the initial workshops and whilst several had Android and Blackberry phones, the people they knew who liked apps and downloaded lots of new apps all had iPhones. Advice from experts also confirmed that iOS is the best platform for early adopters and most apps launch on iOS first and then expand to other platforms later.
In Hand: Alongside the decision to go native for iOS and Android, was the functionality required by the app. From the co-creation process the product would need to utilise mobile phone features such as the media library and camera to provide a personal and creative experience that complimented the project’s core objective: to support people with mind mapping techniques that help bring them bring back some balance!
Do you have plans to publish on other platforms?
Doc Ready: None at present. We’ve had no demand from any of the people using it, nor has anyone said “Oh, I’d use Doc Ready if it was available through an app store”.
They seem pretty happy with using it as a web app, and none of the features we’re most interested in adding to it would require an app platform either.
In Hand: We have plans to produce a second and more refined version of In Hand for iOS/Android platforms. This is being fuelled by a lot of feedback from users on new features and improvements to the current version. There are also internal ideas to improve In Hand that we feel could make the application even better for users. We will be waiting for the evaluation feedback from MindTech in January to see if In Hand has proven useful enough to users for us to pursue further funding for a second version
MoodBug: We have plans for both an HTML5 version and an Android version, as well as potentially some skins for instant messenger and gaming services, but this depends on funding. As it’s a social app we need it to be accessible to as many people as possible, as this is the best way to reach critical mass and reassure users that the app is mainstream and universally accessible. We won’t reach scale without building for HTML5, android and any other key emerging platforms.
Yes, there’s a lot of different views!
If you’re considering building an app then once you’ve validated your idea’s core concept consider:
- Does your app need to utilise mobile technology? If not then building for html5 (ie a web app that works in any browser) first may be a good idea.
- If your app depends on other features of a user’s device, like MoodBug does with contact integration or In Hand with a user’s music collection, then building a native app may be a good idea
- If you’re building a native app then it may be a good idea to focus on one platform first, unless you have the budget for both.
- If you’re still not sure then consider building for html5 first then use app ‘wrapping’ applications that take your web app and turn it into an app version
But these four points are by no means the only questions you need to ask. Use google, read up on other people’s experiences and opinions. And if you’re still not sure then find someone who has been through the process and enlist their help to guide you. It’ll probably be money well spent.