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Mobile Development: Avoiding a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

The tech community is hot for HTML5—and rightfully so. This technology for developing Web content offers abundant benefits over its predecessor, including location detection, offline capabilities, improved audio, and enhanced video playback.  Most important, it enables mobile developers to focus on creating a singular Web experience, instead of separate apps for the Android (GOOG), iPhone (AAPL), and BlackBerry (RIMM),  saving organizations time and money.

As a greater number of mobile innovations come into play, we hear a lot of ill-advised debates over what’s best. A common question, for instance, is: “Should we implement in HTML5 or are native apps better suited for our customers?” Unfortunately, many developers get stuck in a one-vs.-the-other approach, compromising their user experience.

The better development strategy is to focus on the customer experience, not the development tool. Regardless of what development approach a company selects, the user experience should always be the primary consideration. Skyrocketing demand for mobile apps and smartphones can be attributed directly to usability and productivity.

For companies, the focus is on productivity. If you’re relying on mobile to increase employee productivity, your app had better be user-friendly, with content that is relevant and contextual. If an app isn’t easy to use, adoption will drop significantly and any productivity gains from your mobile program will be lost. Take business travel, for example. Most large companies have strict policies to keep costs down and use mobile technology to ease employee compliance—making sure they fly on approved airlines, stay in the most affordable hotels, and spend with pre-negotiated partners. If the mobile app is difficult to use, it doesn’t matter how great a deal you’ve negotiated with an airline or hotel. Employees won’t use it.

Technology will continue to evolve and developers will always chase the latest innovations. In reality, most people don’t care what technology is being used. They want apps built and designed with usability and their specific needs in mind.

HTML5 Has Problems, too

For example, even with the improved features of Web-based technology, one could argue that HTML5 is still less user-friendly than apps are. Users have shown they like the app experience. HTML5 also has limitations as to how well it can use all the native smartphone’s features.

So what’s the best option for your mobile development strategy? Here’s some advice:

First, evaluate how and why your target market uses your mobile product. The goal is to have users addicted to their interactions with your app so they always come back for more. To achieve this, forward-looking organizations are leaving the initial planning to the customer-experience team, not the software architects, and are making sure they add as much personalization and relevance to everything that gets designed and built.

Next, be creative and look beyond the standard Web- or app-implementation approaches. Instead, consider such options as a “hybrid” approach to mobile development. Creating your mobile solution—using a mixture of HTML5 and more traditional native app technologies—can provide customers a best-of-both-worlds offering. By going hybrid, you can decrease development time, speed up time to market, and provide a much better user experience. Finally, by leveraging Web technology for your mobile projects, you now have a much broader set of development resources that will allow for a faster start.

Developers may initially want to avoid the hybrid development approach because of cost, but any switching expenses will quickly be offset by the ease of maintenance and management of future versions. The hybrid approach ultimately delivers rapid, cost-effective development, a great user experience, and high user adoption—precisely the goal of mobile development.

Mike Uomoto is vice-president of product management at Rearden Commerce, which develops mobile and online-commerce platforms.

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