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When to go native: Choosing between the mobile web and native apps for conferences and events

When to go native: Choosing between the mobile web and native apps for conferences and events


Mobile usage is skyrocketing. Mobile web traffic has surpassed desktop traffic in some countries and others are poised to follow. The average smartphone user has 65 apps installed, but uses just 15 on a regular basis. As mobile web usage rises and the mobile app market becomes saturated, event professionals face a choice: native app or mobile website?

Native Mobile Apps
“Native” mobile applications are developed for a specific mobile device operating system, such as Apple iOS, Google Android, Windows Phone, and so on.
Example: Facebook for Android


  •  Offline functionality: Conferences and events can have limited cellular reception and wireless access points. Native apps, once downloaded, work without a network connection.
  •  Push notifications: Native apps can send “push” notifications, which pop up on a user’s phone even if the app isn’t open. Push notifications help keep your audience informed and engaged.
  •  Local capabilities and storage: Built-in features such as the camera or location detection are more accessible by native apps, providing increased options for functionality. Being on a list of downloaded apps also makes native apps easier for users to find.


  • Download & adoption: Every audience member must find, download, and install your app ahead of time, as well as develop the habit of using the app to find information. If attendees don’t download the app in advance, they can’t enjoy its offline capabilities at the event.
  •  Platform-specific development: Developing native apps can be more complex and costly than developing mobile websites. Native app development also involves selecting a specific mobile platform, which will exclude some audience members.
  •  App store approval: Native apps must be “approved” by their platform’s app store, in a process that could take weeks. If your app is rejected, you have nothing to offer your audience.

Mobile Web Apps
Mobile web applications are websites that are optimized for display on mobile devices and offer many interactive features, such as social media sharing or session tracking.


  •  Cross-platform, one-time development: Mobile web apps or websites use industry standards like HTML5 and CSS to create a single solution that works on any mobile device.
  •  Flexibility and consistency:Mobile web apps provide a consistent, intuitive experience for users, in contrast to native apps that may have a learning curve or offer different features on different platforms.
  •  Email and social media compatibility: You can send attendees to your website via email or social media and be confident that they can immediately access information--no download required. The mobile web is also seamlessly social, so users can share event details without making their contacts download an app.


  •  Web dependent:In a constrained event environment, the need for internet connection can be a major downside of the mobile web.
  •  Local capabilities: As noted, native apps are better equipped to take advantage of features built into the phone, such as the camera or GPS.
  •  Access: You’ll need a memorable URL and/or an effective marketing campaign to consistently drive users to your mobile website.

Conclusion: It’s Complicated
This list of pros and cons shows that the question of mobile app development is much more complex than “iPhone or Android?” When thinking of mobile, think audience first, and determine what’s most valuable: the convenience of the web or the robustness of an app. If you decide to go native, consider offering a mobile web alternative for those who don’t use the platform you’ve chosen. That way you can keep (almost) everyone productive and happy on mobile at your event.

Kerry Skemp is a writer, editor and co-founder of  ConferenceHop, a mobile audience engagement platform for events, designed to help attendees ask questions, rate sessions, watch videos, and connect with speakers or fellow audience members, all from any mobile device.

TAGS: Event Tools
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