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Native Apps: A Game Startups Can’t Win

Any software startup launching in 2014 has to abide by two rules.

The product must be mobile-first, if not mobile-only. The desktop, at least from a consumer perspective, is on its way to extinction.

Secondly, developers must build native apps for Android and iOS. A few years ago, there was hope that HTML5 would deliver a viable cross-platform alternative to native apps.

The technology, however, has fallen short, particularly regarding speed and support for offline situations. And the major platforms all started to dramatically favor native development by withholding key distribution tools—push notifications, badges, bookmarks and app store distribution—for native applications. Doing so has been in their interests because it generates lock-in for developers.

But the importance of native has created a big tax on developers. While almost every aspect of development has been getting easier and cheaper, the need for mobile native applications has made it orders of magnitude harder for companies to build innovative new services. This is especially true of any sort of networked application.

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Building native apps means a company needs far more than double the number of engineers, product managers, and designers it would if it could rely on the Web.