Building the right app for your logistics organization can be complicated enough, and the technology you choose for deploying your mobile solution is an important choice to make. Should you build a native or a web app?
While native apps have been favoured by the logistics industry, the spread of reliable web connectivity and the emergence of new technologies has made web apps a feasible option for some organizations.
This article explores the advantages of web and native apps, and introduces the mix of technologies that could replace both of these options in the near future.
Native apps: Powerful, secure but cumbersome
A few years ago, when wireless connectivity was an unreliable and only sporadically available, native apps were the obvious choice. Built to run on the device itself, a native app could function without an Internet connection, so users could access program data and functionality whether they were connected to a network or not. Native apps also provided the kind of secure handling of data required by enterprise environments. They integrate well with device hardware such as inbuilt scanners, widely used in supply chain applications.
However, native apps come with a number of disadvantages. Because they reside entirely on the device, they require a considerable amount of effort to create, install, and maintain, especially across an organization that supports multiple devices and platforms.
Web apps: Easy to deploy across many platforms, but limited
As web connectivity has become more ubiquitous, web apps have become more feasible for enterprises. Built to communicate with a remote platform that can be accessed via the Internet, web apps are a lightweight, easy-to-create, easy-to-deploy alternative to native apps. Loaded with nothing but a mobile browser, a mobile device can access a wide range of sophisticated programs.
Web apps can also minimize the costs of software maintenance. Because the app itself is rendered in a browser it is easy to update and port cross-platform to different devices and mobile operating systems.
Also, the number of talented developers with experience in web technologies provides companies with a wider choice of supplier.
But the big turnoff is that as soon as Internet connectivity is lost, the mobile device becomes little more than a paperweight. Without access to the web, the user is cut off from the app and its related data completely.
Hybrid apps: The best of both worlds
Although only a handful of developers are currently building hybrid apps, this technology has the potential to overtake both native and web apps in the near future. In fact, a recent report by Gartner predicts that by 2015, the majority of enterprise apps will be hybrids.
What’s so compelling about hybrids? Simply put, they combine the security and offline capacity of a native app with the flexibility and ease of a web app.
Using a programming language called HTML5, hybrid apps extend web code capabilities with on/offline capabilities.
There’s tremendous potential in this hybrid technology that offers the resilience and independence of a native app with the ease and real-time access of a web app.
However, the technology is not yet considered to be mature. Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously admitted that focusing too early on HTML5 was a big mistake, and more recently, the LinkedIn development team abandoned HTML5 and returned to wholly native apps for their mobile platform offerings.
The future of hybrids for logistics
While hybrid solutions are not entirely ready for the logistics enterprise, we’re very close. At Consafe Logistics we’re very optimistic about the potential of hybrids for our industry.
Hybrid apps could be suited to the logistics industry for a number of reasons. The need for apps that can function without web connectivity is essential. A truck driver or other field worker, for example, is not always able to stay web-connected on the road.
Other reasons to adopt hybrid technology include:
Security: Hybrid apps give enterprises the security and manageability of a native app, being delivered in a manageable “container”. That enables the ability to reach into the mobile device from a remote location to save or delete data, manage permissions, and perform other security functions in real time.
BYOD workplace: Hybrid apps elegantly solve many of the challenges involved in supporting a BYOD workplace, like enabling workers to choose a personal device to run their work app on, while it can be controlled in a secured area of the device without disturbing or infringing on any of the personal functionality the device supports.
Speed-to-market: Hybrid technologies give enterprises a clear market advantage, because they’re so much easier to build and faster to deploy. Leveraging the skills of developers comfortable with web technologies, enterprises can build apps with robust, advanced functionality that match that of a native app.
Peripheral connectivity: Logistics organizations have more complex needs than other industries when it comes to maintaining connectivity between devices and peripherals, such as warehouse scanners, printers, and other machines. While web apps are not capable of establishing these connections, hybrid apps can do so very effectively.
Ready to help customers get ahead
Victor Surpaceanu, Product Manager for Enterprise Mobility at Consafe Logistics says they have their finger on the apps pulse. "We’re continuing to focus on native technology when it comes to building supply chain apps for our customers," says Victor. "But we’re watching the evolution of hybrid technology closely, and we predict that the logistics industry will begin to shift towards hybrids very soon.
When the shift happens, we’ll be ready to help our customers make the transition and enjoy the competitive advantages of this new enterprise technology."
If you have any questions about application development for your processes, contact Victor Surpaceanu, Product Manager for Enterprise Mobility: Victor.Surpaceanu@consafelogistics.com