Mobile cloud app versus native app: Understanding the difference and securing the data

By James O'Brien

Developers creating the next generation of mobile applications are able to approach their software across a spectrum of decision points. A key decision point of every project, however, is choosing between making a native app or developing a mobile cloud app.

Of course, regardless of whether developers choose native or cloud-based, the versions of the apps downloaded by users continue to transform smartphones, tablets and even laptops into sophisticated, all-in-one toolkits. Users are also spending more time than ever engaging with mobile applications; as TechCrunch reports, app use rose 63 percent in the past two years. However, the choice between native and mobile cloud apps can have implications for user experience and data security.

The native app: Where it lives, how it works

The apps that users download and install on their mobile devices are native applications. Gamers know them well: The typical game app is native, as are many of the reading, word processing and productivity applications that people use on their tablets and smartphones.

The data that native apps generate is stored locally, and it becomes accessible once the app reports back to the developer. As Annie Bustos points out at Smart Data Collective, this data provides developers with highly useful insights, such as whether an in-app promotion was successful.

One important note: Native apps are unique to each platform or device. When a developer chooses to release different versions across platforms, each variation is built specifically for that operating environment.

The mobile cloud app: Server-side solutions

Mobile cloud apps reside on servers. The user does not download them, but instead accesses them through a web browser.

Productivity apps love mobile cloud. The user is able to access to all their documents and resources from just about anywhere, regardless of the device they’re using — even if it’s not their own device. Without mobile cloud, this functionality would be virtually impossible.

Data generated by mobile cloud apps is stored on the server side. Additionally, the mobile cloud app is platform- and device-agnostic. Build it once, and the user experience remains the same, screen to screen.

Security evolution: Moving from perimeter to data-level protection

With the promise of mobile cloud app flexibility in mind, developers will increasingly need to take into account the way users access these tools to deliver on the promise of secure data. Accounting for data security in the app ecosystem requires moving beyond single perimeters defended by firewalls. Developers must work within a scenario that more dynamically adjusts to whatever users are doing with the stored information. This is particularly critical when the data in question is stored on the server side.

Native app security hinges upon protecting the user’s device. Personal and business data benefit from encryption, and consumers should use native apps with longstanding or reputable developers running secure APIs in situations when the app does call on external sources.

The bottom line to native and mobile cloud app considerations is that the user experience is paramount. In each example, the way an application works with a mobile device defines the availability of the service to the consumer. Native apps give users an experience largely independent of connectivity once downloaded; mobile cloud supplies an anywhere, on-any-device experience for users who want and need it. For developers, new use cases and increasing user adoption are driving change, innovation and new security protocols across the mobile app spectrum.

Written By

James O'Brien

Technology Reporter

For the past half decade, James O'Brien has covered technology and the ways it intersects with our lives and work. His points of focus include data analytics, the mobile sector, driver-less cars, the Internet of Things, IT infrastructure, data security, 3-D printing, and technology…

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