Creating Mobile Experiences For Pharma: Apps v. Web

As strategic planning season gets into full swing, and tactical planning looms around the corner, this year will be a big year for Pharma marketers to ask the question – “Why don’t we launch an app?”

Who could blame them? With iPhone™ users downloading well over 2 billion apps to date, averaging about 65 apps per user, there is an app for almost everything. Add to that the increasing popularity of smartphones using the Google android™ platform, and the launch of additional app stores like RIM’s app marketplace for Blackberry devices, and there are apps for almost every phone as well.

But before your planning team moves forward with designs for your app, there are a couple of things you should consider.

While the touch screen smartphone offers unique opportunities for delivery of robust brand, disease, or educational content, there are a number of ways to deliver that content. For the purposes of this discussion we will look at the two main ways to deliver contained brand-able experiences, and the debate between them – The Native App, or the Web App. Both have broad commonalities, as well as strong differentiators, and should be evaluated for their value to the brand and the supporting campaigns. The goal of this post is to provide you with the education and the tools to be able to do that for yourself.

The Native App:

The native app is a self contained experience that can be distributed and run on specific device Operating Systems (OS). These custom-coded programs can perform a variety of functions, from entertainment to gaming, to utility and productivity. They are distributed through the OS-specific store (iTunes, or Android App Marketplace) and can be downloaded directly onto the device, and using the Apple-provided SDK, iOS (tablet & Phone) apps are relatively easy to develop and cost effective to implement and deploy.

Because of the success of the iPhone, iPad, and the current generation of touch-enabled iPods, Apple has been able to write the book on the app experience for all users. But they are no longer alone in the space. Android has gained significant market share in the mobile phone OS space, and is expected to be the main competition for Apple in the looming tablet OS wars.

Android apps offer similar functionality for its platform users, but also allow for the use of both new and some forms of legacy flash content. Developers create new apps using the core android SDK and launch to the android marketplace. However, at around 50,000 apps in its marketplace, Android still lags significantly behind the over 200,000 Apple iOS apps available in iTunes.

While they function similarly, and in most cases common apps like social media favorite facebook and physician mainstay epocrates are replicated for each platform, they are not operational cross platform. And, they have to be removed from the device manually by the rep, or updated through the online store after a brief approval process.

The Web App:

The touch screen interface ushered in a new era for the mobile web. Gone are the old monochromatic text-based browsers and clumsy click-wheel navigation interfaces of the last generation of smart- and feature-phones. In their place are slick buttons and sliders, rich graphics, and lightning fast speeds.

As the mobile device matured, so has the mobile web browser and the code behind the sites that ran on them. In fact, with a careful blending of CSS, xml, and html, you can now make almost any website look and act like an app. They can even be made to launch like a native app, with an icon on your home screen that you can touch to activate.

For plenty of examples, point your desktop browser to or look up on your iPhone browser. These apps use the latest in CSS3 and HTML5 to provide a native app experience from a website.

While web apps require an internet connection to function, they can be launched, updated or even taken down by making changes on a web server and don’t recall recall? the review and approval process required to launch native apps – veryhandy in the event of a time- sensitive information launch, or when you need to quickly and decisively pull information off the market.

  • seamless download and update experience
  • supports gaming & rich media experiences
  • stores data and media locally
  • does not require internet access to run
  • can also integrate or leverage some web content
  • requires approval to launch or update
  • requires user compliance to ensure update or delete of app
  • limited to single mobile OS
  • requires additional investment to port to other platforms
  • user must connect to app store to download
Web App
  • web based, works across mobile browsers
  • can leverage device functionality (GPS, media player, click to call) just like a native app
  • can be updated instantly via web server
  • may require less development time
  • can be downloaded Over The Air (OTA) right from the browser
  • lacks cache of being listed in app store
  • requires user interaction to save icon to home screen
  • in app purchases require credit card

Things to Consider:

Whether determining your brand’s entry into the mobile space, or enhancing an existing campaign, there are a number of factors to consider. First, the basics:

  • Are your current properties viewable on common mobile devices?
  • Are your sites optimized for the best mobile experience?
  • What contextual needs will be satisfied with this mobile experience?
  • How can we integrate this mobile experience with our existing experiences?

Once you have decided that you need an app, ask yourself why? What do you want to accomplish? Then speak to an expert about the best way to make sure that you get that result.

By Geoff McCleary
VP, Strategy
imc2 health & wellness

*Editor’s Note: IMC2 will be hosting a special luncheon Keynote address by Bob Garfield at Digital Pharma East on October 20:
Special Luncheon Address
Hear the story of how, over the past decade, Garfield has famously and presciently chronicled the digital revolution, culminating in his landmark 2009 book, The Chaos Scenario.  Bob Garfield is not content to chronicle the ruinous disintegration of traditional media and marketing–he is travelling the five continents looking for solutions. In this address;
  • Hear Garfield engage the audience to discuss solutions
  • Explore what answers exist for all institutions who wish to survive and thrive in a digitally connected, Post-Media Age
  • Hear from the most prominent commentator and analyst of advertising and marketing who has ever lived
Bob Garfield
Columnist of 25 Years
Author, The Chaos Scenario
Host, NPR on the Media

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