So you want to build a native application?

by Chris Maloney
Published 11-6-2013

Because you can make a billion dollars in the app marketplace right?!? Well, there are some things to learn and consider first. Native mobile applications on the iPhone, Android, and Window's phones are not coded with normal web coding languages that we've grown to love (jQuery, PHP, HTML5/CSS3). iPhone uses Objective C, Android uses Java, and Window's phones use C#. So first off, that means having a native application for all 3 means building the same app 3 TIMES. Hopefully that just made you cringe because I just did.

So that means that having a software company (notice I didn't say web company) build you a native mobile app is going to cost in the ballpark of $50k-$100k. If someone quotes much less than that, I have seen in my experience they are either:

  1. Outsourcing to a foreign country
  2. Have no idea what they're doing
  3. Using a 3rd party conversion service and selling as native

The 3rd party conversion service I mentioned would be something like PhoneGap or Titanium. They work by allowing you to take an application built with just HTML/CSS and Javascript, and 'wrapping' it within a framework that hooks into the functions of a phone. (Accelerometer, Contacts, Camera, etc). The framework produces a 'native' app that can be sold and downloaded on various phones. However, as operating systems are updated, and new phones are released you're still in a constant battle of trying to keep up. Do you want to keep paying the same company over and over again to keep up with the phone changes?

And the answer may be yes! If you're a successful company and you have the funds to keep high level programmers on stand by to build and maintain your native apps, then I say go get em. In my experience though, I've seen a lot of uninformed consumers engaging a wanna-be mobile app developer and losing more than just their shirt on a business dream.

I don't want you to think that I'm trying to suggest we should ignore mobile. Of course not. Every website or web application I put at the door these days is built responsive (meaning the design adjusts depending on screen size), and I don't even charge extra for it. I'm suggesting that unless you have sufficient funds, time, and planning to do a native app correctly, you should look at building a responsive web application instead. What that means is that you build an application using standard web technologies (Ruby on Rails, PHP, Python, .NET) that re-sizes and simplifies the view automatically if viewed on mobile. In the end, you can save a ton of money, and if your idea takes off you'll be able to afford to come back around to the native mobile platform.