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Reporting from Inbound: Native vs. Web Apps


The Yottaa team is onto Day 3 at Inbound 2014. But before we talk about today, we want to cover a few things from yesterday.  In the morning Malcolm Gladwell’s keynote covered the characteristics of “the underdog”, including the story of Malcolm McLean, who revolutionized the freight industry. His genius was to create a standardized shipping container that worked in every port, every country, on every continent, so that nobody would have to manage the difficult transitions from one system to another.  With this idea in our heads, we headed out to the more topical sessions.

Later in the day, we heard a panel on the “Applification of the Web” with technology leaders from SitterCity, TripAdvisor, and Localytics. They covered “how rich and interactive experiences we have come to expect on mobile apps have created new standards and expectations for all digital media including the web.”

The panel agreed that context and user experience is paramount. The fast, snappy and interactive nature of successful native apps raises our expectations for every digital medium, including the desktop.  We expect a seamless cross-device experience. And the panelists all agreed that it’s really hard to get this cross-device experience right.  Panelist Rishi Dean said that his company, SitterCity, made a big bet on responsive design to optimize user experience across devices. It failed. Conversions rates plummeted. They arrived at a native app as a solution to meet user in the right context.

So while the panel was filled with talk and success stories on native apps, the question of building experiences on the open web was always lurking.  The panelists noted the challenges they faced when trying to build an experience on the web, which included sluggish responses on activity like page transitions and swipes that is incumbent in regular browsing situations, and how they learned lessons the hard way, such as that tablet users prefer a desktop style layout to a more app-like one.

In fact, the very first question in the audience Q&A probed whether it really was so far-fetched to think that the open web will be able to gain the kind of functionality that we see on native apps.  The panelists all agreed, yes, it’s a bit far-fetched, and yes, native apps are here to stay. And it’s hard to argue with them, since native apps are so successful at meeting user experience and mobile context.

But let’s step back and look at the problems that are to blame for driving people to apps.  It’s all about technology.  The insufficient local caching in mobile browsers is a big one, as well as the lack of serious pre-fetching capabilities. That networks like 3G are still common is a problem in itself. But these are solvable performance issues.  Yottaa’s application sequencing feature, for instance, mitigates all of these problems and makes sites more interactive and app-like by creating a rendering experience that?s responsive to on-page activity. This opens up the potential for richer experiences on the web that actually work.

Native apps are today’s standard for a great digital experience. But remember Malcolm McLean’s container.  A seamlessly integrated solution for multiple delivery systems shook up an entire industry.  Might the same thing happen for digital experiences?  Responsive design was just a first attempt.  Some other ‘underdog’ may hold something more revolutionary.



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