Just a few years ago, doing development with native technologies was completely out of vogue for most developers. Now, it's all the rage, at least in the mobile space. What happened? Well, long story short: Apple lit a fire of sorts.
"A lot of the juice behind the resurgence of native apps can be attributed to the Steve Jobs factor," said Michael Rozlog, product manager for Delphi Solutions at Embarcadero Technologies, a provider of tools for developers and database professionals. "Jobs was talking native apps as early as 2007 and pushing Apple to be a leader in this area of development."
Rozlog said it's not surprising that Apple now has so much clout in the area.
"Many people in the upper echelons of corporate America are in love with their iPhones and iPads, and appreciate the power of native apps," he said. "The thought running through many heads is 'shouldn't we be creating native software?' Until the success of Apple with native apps, I never heard people discuss native apps for years."
Rozlog added that Google's Native Client project is driving a lot of interest in native development. Google's technology aims to give web developers access to the full power of a client's CPU while maintaining the browser neutrality, OS portability and safety that people expect from web applications.
Native data applications, such as social networking, multimedia and maps installed on smartphones, now account for 50 percent of all mobile data volume according to a recent global smartphone report from Finnish mobile analytics company Zokem.
In its report, released last month, Zokem found that while the mobile web browser is still the most popular smartphone app, the use of native apps outside the browser is growing faster than mobile browsing itself.
The report found that the web browser accounted for 54 percent of data application face time and 50 percent of data volume.
Zokem's findings are based on patented non-parametric measurements that take place directly in smartphones. In the study, the researcher analyzed a dataset of more than 10 000 smartphone users, including 6.5 million distinct smartphone application usage sessions in 16 countries during 2009 and 2010.
One of the hottest areas in native apps is social networking, noted the report.
For example, Facebook's native application attracts 12 percent of users with a high face time of 188 minutes on average per month. Twitter is used even more, averaging 311 minutes a month, although it has a smaller monthly user base of just four percent of active smartphone users.
The report also found that almost all smartphone users with a data plan activate their mobile web browser at least once a month, spending on average 300 minutes browsing the web, a figure that is comparable to mobile voice usage.
Zokem sees a strong trend for web-based native applications in the mobile market, said Dr. Hannu Verkasalo, founder of Zokem.
App stores, such as Apple's and Google's, combined with a variety of non-browser-based data applications pre-embedded in smartphones, are now driving the growth of the mobile Internet, Verkasalo added.
"As mobile consumption patterns get richer, and people learn to require more and more functionalities, the native applications in most cases provide the best user experience," said Verkasalo.
Zokem's report also found that web browsing is shrinking in relative usage.
"Only a few years ago web browsing was about 70 to 80 percent of smartphone-driven Internet usage, but now it seems to be changing," said Verkasalo.
While web browsing usage is still growing in absolute terms, the rising number and usage of new data applications are pushing down the relative share of web browsing.