Native vs Web App for IoT Devices

Recently I was chatting with a friend about a new WiFi router. I hadn’t heard of it and he sent me a link to it. The first thing I noticed about it was that the configuration was done via an iOS or Android app. As an iOS developer, I know that a native app is going to generally provide a better user experience than a web app. However, as a consumer, I shy away from devices that only have a native app interface. If the app stops working, isn’t updated quickly when an OS gets updated, or the company stops supporting the app, I’d be out of luck. In addition, I like being able to configure devices using my desktop machine and most devices don’t have a Mac app for configuration.

The native apps are great, but they have to be secondary to a web interface for any IoT device. I mentioned this to my friend and he understood right away my point. I look at the serial to Ethernet gateway I have that I bought used 3.5 years ago and is likely not made any more and am glad that it has a web interface. Granted it is a very specialized device on my network, but the web interface is the only reason that I’m still able to use it. If it were a device that I wanted to look at more often, like a router that I needed to control various aspects of it, the lack of a web interface makes the device a no go in my opinion.

I wish that more companies would implement web interfaces first for their IoT devices and have native apps as secondary interfaces. I’m not saying that all apps should be web apps; in fact, I believe that native apps provide a better user experience. I am saying that web apps should always be a backup option in case the native app isn’t available or doesn’t work.

4 Replies to “Native vs Web App for IoT Devices”

  1. If the devices supported a REST interface, they could easily support both a web interface and an app interface. Did you know that Visio tvs now come with a minimum remote control and you have to download and run an app on a mobile device to configure most setting?

    1. Absolutely a REST interface would work well. However, sometimes when a REST interface is bolted onto a site, the site doesn’t actually use REST and therefore behaves differently than a native app. If the site was built from the ground up with a native app in mind, the results would be better. I’ve seen this with various websites where the native displays different information than the website.

      I did notice that some of the Visio TVs shipped with an Android tablet. I still like a physical remote, however, these days all I use is my Apple TV remote. The remote controls my Visio sound bar via IR and controls the Apple TV via Bluetooth. Since I use Channels for live TV (with an HDHomeRun) and Plex for watching shows (using a MythTV DVR that shoves things into Plex), I have no reason to pull out the actual TV remote. My Visio TV turns on using the Apple TV remote and turns off with it as well. As long as I keep using an Apple TV, I guess I don’t care what TV remote I have.

    1. If I recall correctly, there isn’t a web version for the admin. At some point in the past, the current AirPort Admin didn’t support an older AirPort device requiring you to find an older version of the AirPort Admin software. That’s precisely the problem I’m describing; a perfectly good router basically lost the ability to configure it.

      As much as I like Apple devices, I have no plans for another AirPort router.

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