Users Prefer Native Apps as HTML5 Reality Falls Short of Promise

There have been a couple of interesting contributions in the last week to the ongoing HTML5 vs native mobile app debate. Firstly, Compuware APM published some research that indicates that 85% of smartphone users prefer to use native apps rather than mobile web apps. Secondly, the team behind the popular accounting software Xero announced that they are switching focus to native apps following difficulties in delivering an acceptable mobile web offering.

The Xero team were keen to exploit their existing web development talents when building a mobile version and acknowledge that this, not user experience, was their primary justification for choosing the HTML5 route. But when their efforts failed to yield acceptable results they changed tack:

Xero prides itself on not compromising on customer experience, and when it comes down to it, the question isn’t “How can we use our existing skills to build a mobile application?” but “What is going to enable us to deliver the best customer experience on the mobile devices that our customers use?”

This is a similar conclusion to that reached by Facebook last year when it replaced HTML5 with native on iOS.

As we’ve mentioned previously, one of the key promises of HTML5 is that you can build one app that works everywhere. If you’re targeting multiple mobile platforms this is supposed to make it easier as you don’t have to duplicate effort by creating native apps for each operating system. What’s interesting about the Xero announcement is that they’ve acknowledged that the reality is somewhat different. They’ve concluded that with the current state of the tools and mobile web browsers they would have to put in more effort than it would take to build native apps:

…the lesson we’ve learnt over the last 12 months has been that the cost in time, effort and testing to bring an HTML5 application to a native level of performance seems to be far greater than if the application was built with native technologies from the get-go.

Current trends show that the mobile market is consolidating on just two major platforms, with Google and Apple squeezing out BlackBerry, Microsoft and others. That makes focusing on just the big two a viable mobile strategy. And if there are only two platforms that really count then, as things stand at present, native apps are the way to go.

The picture will of course change as the HTML5 ecosystem matures but for the likes of BlackBerry and Microsoft that can’t happen soon enough. Right now developers may well choose an excellent experience for ~90% of users over a mediocre one for everybody.

StackAnywhere 1.1 Released

StackAnywhere 1.1Today sees the release of a long-awaited update to StackAnywhere, the Android app for the Stack Exchange network (which includes sites such as Stack Overflow and Super User). This version brings the UI up-to-date for Android 4.x users and also moves the app onto the latest version of the StackExchange API. As well as dozens of minor fixes and refinements included in version 1.1, the move to the latest API opens up opportunities for new functionality in future version versions.

As prevously, StackAnywhere is available in two editions. The ad-supported Silver Edition is free to download and use. If you don’t want to see any adverts in the app, you can upgrade to the Gold Edition.

Android & iOS Account for 91% of Smartphone Sales

For much of the last few years the smartphone market has been a three-horse race with Apple, Google and BlackBerry battling for supremacy. Google’s Android has held the lead in recent times while BlackBerry’s market share has continued to dwindle. Figures published yesterday by IDC show that although BlackBerry is still in third place, its share of new devices sold is down to just 3.2% and it remains to be seen whether its new X10 and Q10 devices will do anything to reverse that slide.

With Microsoft (2.4%) so far failing to make a big impact with Windows Phone there are now only two big players in terms of mobile platforms: Android (70.1%) and iOS (21.0%). This is the continuation of a trend previously highlighted on this blog in the discussion of the pros and cons of HTML5 versus native apps.

There are two important caveats in this latest data. Firstly it should be noted that these figures are for sales of new devices. Actual smartphone ownership figures lag behind as devices purchased in the last couple of years remain in use. Secondly, these are worldwide figures and while they are broadly representative of trends across much of Europe and Asia, there are markets where the picture is markedly different. For example, while the same duopoly exists in the United States, the relative shares are very different with Apple’s iOS in pole position (51.2%) and Android in second (44.2%).

Slow Update Cycle Handicaps Android App Developers

iOS 5.0 and Android 4.0 were unveiled a week apart in October 2011. 15 months later the Apple offering has achieved near universal uptake (over 96% according to some third-party figures) whereas the majority of users of Google’s OS are still waiting. Many will never receive an upgrade for their current devices.

With less than 40% of Android users running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) or Jelly Bean (Android 4.1/4.2), app developers find themselves having to support outdated versions of the operating system in order to reach the widest audience of Android users. To be runnable by 90% or more of users, an Android app must run on Android 2.2 (Froyo), an OS that is four months short of its third birthday. iOS developers on the other hand need only support a 10-month-old version (iOS 5.1) in order to reach the same percentage of users.

This pattern seems set to continue (iOS 6 already has twice the penetration of Android 4.x despite being only four months old) and while it does Android developers will not be able to rely on recent OS features if they intend their app to be usable by the majority. In contrast, an iOS app developer can happily forget about the limitations of all but the last couple of versions of the platform, which leads to a much more straightforward development process with far fewer workarounds and compromises.

With many Android device manufacturers failing to provide updates for older phones, existing Android users are typically only getting the new OS when they upgrade to new hardware. At that pace it is likely to be mid 2014 before app developers can consider dumping Android 2.x completely.

Improved Order Reconciliation in Appmonger 2.3.1

Following on from last week’s 2.3.0 release of Appmonger, the Google Play app seller’s app, today we’ve got some more improvements. As well as some refinements to the previous Android 4.x support there is also a new option to override your device’s default time zone and display reports using the time zone of your choice. However, the change that will probably of interest to most users is the improved order reconciliation.

Order reconciliation in Appmonger is the process by which previously downloaded orders are updated when more accurate financial information becomes available. It is necessary because the near-real-time data from Google Checkout that Appmonger uses only contains amounts in the buyer’s currency. Appmonger therefore uses third-party exchange rates to estimate the amounts in the seller’s currency. The small inaccuracies introduced by this process accumulate over time and make the overall reports less accurate. Fortunately Google Play’s monthly payout reports provide a second source of data that we can use to correct these figures. The Appmonger reconciliation process checks for new payout reports and uses the data to update its local order records.

Unfortunately, before today the reconciliation process was not a complete solution since the orders in the Google Play payout reports do not map neatly to the data in the Google Checkout reports. Those orders in the payout report that reference the Google Checkout order ID could be matched, but there were many others that could not be reconciled. Version 2.3.1 of Appmonger fixes this by making sense of the various different types of ID used in the payout reports. Some of these refer to a merchant ID that is present for some but not all orders in the Google Checkout data. In order to make the necessary connections Appmonger now stores this merchant ID when it is present. This means that if you want the new version to reconcile your previously downloaded orders, you will need to delete the app’s data and download them again so that this extra information is obtained.

Appmonger 2.3.0 – Updated for Android 4.x

Appmonger 2.3.0Version 2.3.0 of Appmonger is now available  from Google Play.

This version updates the user interface for Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich and JellyBean). It also includes fixes for a couple of issues. The reconciliation process, which had stopped functioning following changes to Google’s publisher console, should now work again. This release also fixes a problem with a missing pie chart legend when sharing PNG chart images on some devices.

One final point to note, if you are still using the old version of the Google Play publisher console, the reconciliation process will switch you to using version 2 the first time you run it (this is a side effect of retrieving your developer ID). Your ID will be cached after this and you can switch back to the old version of the publisher console the next time you login to it.

Rectangular Software Builds Northern Rail iPhone App

Working in partnership with online rail ticketing specialists Assertis, Rectangular Software recently delivered the first iPhone app for train operator Northern Rail. Northern Rail is one of the largest train operating companies in the UK and is responsible for services across the north of England that serve almost a quarter of the UK’s population.

This new app, available free-of-charge, provides live departure and arrival information for all train services across Great Britain (not just Northern Rail routes) and the ability to purchase tickets for these services.

Northern Rail iOS App Main ScreenNorthern Rail iOS App Live DeparturesNorthern Rail iOS App Live Service StatusNorthern Rail iOS App Journey Planning

The Northern Rail iPhone app is available now as a free download from the iTunes App Store.

Appmonger Update to Handle Exchange Rate Problems

Several users of Appmonger have reported problems downloading exchange rates in the last day or so. This is because the site that Appmonger uses for exchange rates has been offline (whether this is due to the ongoing weather problems in the US that have taken several sites down or some other problem is unclear).

This is not the first time that the exchange rate provider has been unavailable so, to prevent such outages causing problems again in future, I’ve just published a small update to Appmonger (version 2.2.13) that will fall-back to downloading cached exchange rates from rectangularsoftware.com if the primary source is unavailable. Please install this update from Google Play and hopefully you will not encounter these problems any more.

On the subject of further updates to Appmonger, several users have asked about when the app will be updated for Android 4.x so that it does not appear out-dated on newer phones. This update is imminent but has not been tested so was not included in today’s new build. It will be with you shortly.

Themes from Apps World

Today I attended Day 1 of Apps World at Earls Court in London. Events such as this provide a useful snapshot of the current state of the mobile app economy. Listening to the talks and seeing who is exhibiting you notice certain trends.

Whereas 12 months ago you might have expected similar events to be inundated with mobile ad companies, this year the focus appears to be more on solving the more pressing problem of discoverability. With over one million different apps available on the two leading app stores, making sure that users actually find your offering in the deluge of alternatives is paramount. Whatever your monetisation strategy, it can only be effective if you can attract enough users.

The other thing that was immediately obvious is that both RIM and Microsoft are investing heavily in wooing developers to build apps for their platforms. The two companies are currently fighting for a distant third place, behind Android and iOS, in both platform market share and developer mind share.

Microsoft is pushing Windows 8 hard, and with it attempting to blur the distinction between desktop/laptop computers and tablets. This differs from the iOS/Android approach that treats tablets as very different devices to PCs with very different operating systems. With Windows 8 it seems it is the smartphone that is more the odd-one-out in the trio of device types, although the picture isn’t complete since the Windows Phone 8 development tools haven’t been unveiled yet. The non-phone Windows 8 is available to the general public at the end of this month.

RIM is betting everything on its still-not-quite-ready-yet BlackBerry 10 operating system. Perhaps most significantly, it is offering the most eye-catching incentive for app developers on any platform. The Canadian company guarantees that your paid-for native BlackBerry app will make at least $10,000 in revenue. If it doesn’t RIM will write you a cheque for the difference (so long as you were able to generate at least $1,000 in 12 months).

Developer Relations VP Alec Saunders reiterated that Java is now dead on BlackBerry. It remains to be seen whether existing BlackBerry Java developers will migrate to the new BlackBerry developer tools, as RIM hopes, or instead jump ship to Android where their Java skills are more transferable. RIM may also have inadvertently pushed developers towards an Android-only future by providing the ability for BlackBerry 10 to run repackaged Android apps, thereby obviating any pressing need for a native BlackBerry app.

On a related note, the Apps World organisers did RIM no favours by scheduling the BlackBerry talks beneath the imposing figure of a giant inflatable Android. The symbolism was inescapable.

Rectangular Software Builds Blackjack Training App for iOS

Simplicent LLC has today released the first version of Learn Pro Blackjack, for iPhone and iPad. This blackjack training app, built for Simplicent by Rectangular Software, teaches users the fundamentals of Basic Strategy – the essential knowledge for maximising your chances of winning at the table.

With a typical house edge of around just 0.5%, blackjack is a far better proposition for the discerning player than other casino games such as roulette, but only if you make the right decisions in your play. Basic Strategy is a proven set of rules that determine what you should do in every possible situation to give yourself the best chance of winning.

Learn Pro Blackjack combines a set of training flashcards with a comprehensive strategy test consisting of 340 scenarios. The app supports both Las Vegas and Atlantic City rules and includes additional tips to help you get the most from your gaming experience.

If you want to learn blackjack strategy, the app is available now from the iTunes App Store.

Learn Pro Blackjack Main ScreenLearn Pro Blackjack Basic Strategy flashcardsLearn Pro Blackjack Basic Strategy testLearn Pro Blackjack Settings

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