IBM: Bright future for hybrid mobile apps

In the next few years, 50 percent of applications will be hybrid, combine the use of native programming with HTML, and be delivered in a native shell to specific types of devices, according to IBM marketing manager for mobile Jon Baxter.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

Hybrid applications that blend native and web coding together will rise in popularity in the near future, despite difficulties associated with developing these kinds of apps, according to IBM marketing manager for mobile, Jon Baxter.

Mobile adoption is growing at an exponential rate and organisations are rushing to create apps for customers and for use within the business. The problem is that many companies fail to recognise mobile as a completely new business model, and would try to replicate their online presence on mobile applications, Baxter said.

This approach to making mobile applications is not sensible, and results in what Baxter refers to as "an ugly baby".

"I've worked with organisations that had a beautiful web presence, and they try to emulate some of that capability onto a mobile device," he said at IDC's Enterprise Mobility Conference in Sydney. "I take a look at it and I tell them that it's ugly — that they have an ugly baby there."

To improve a mobile app experience, some businesses are building native apps that are specific to a variety of different operating systems and devices, but Baxter considered this a cumbersome approach.

"If I'm building in native code to different operating system levels, different platforms with different skins for different devices, all of a sudden my life gets very complicated," he said.

Native programming has its advantages in that it can make use of a device's built-in capabilities, such as the accelerometer and camera, to enhance the user experience, according to Baxter. But he sees more of a future for applications that use a hybrid way of programming.

Baxter predicts that in the next few years, 50 percent of applications will be hybrid apps that combine the use of native programming with HTML, and are delivered in a native shell to specific types of devices.

These apps will have a small amount of code built in native, and are quicker to build, not to mention easier to maintain, he said, though Baxter admits that it's hard to weave the interface between native and HTML together in a seamless way.

"Hybrid apps also have the ability for enterprise to push updates out without going through app stores, via the HTML back end, if there is a security flaw and so on, without having to change the native code," Baxter said. "When you're talking to your customers, users, and IT departments, you have to consider this type of programming."

While it is tempting to just cater for one mobile operating system environment, companies can't pick winners and losers in this space, and must provide support for all popular platforms in the market, he said.

"Three to four years ago, there were still some cases where companies just built Apple apps — that just doesn't cut it anymore," Baxter said.

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