This guest post is by Brian Doll, an App Performance Engineer at New Relic

Despite the mobile madness, many companies are still dragging their heels. Why? Building a native mobile app can be a serious undertaking that demands significant investment in developer resources, time and money. Typically, start-ups and smaller companies lack the resources needed to create their own native apps, so instead, these companies are making the most out of their web applications in a mobile environment. So, what do you need to know to make sure their mobile apps perform as well as their web apps?

The first thing to remember is that the world is going mobile. Recent studies predict that by 2012, 60 percent of all Internet access will be via a mobile device. Regardless of whether you’ve officially adopted a mobile app strategy or have plans to develop a native application, your website will be access on a mobile phone.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, what can you do to make sure that your web app performs well? Keep in mind that in a mobile environment, simplicity reigns supreme. In order to keep it simple, focus your application’s features on the most necessary functions and transactions, which will give users the best overall experience.  For example, if you’re reading a news site, you’ll want to solely focus the user experience on the actual article without excessive images or ads. Keeping your pages lightweight will speed up load times, bolsters performance, and streamlines the end user experience. There are multiple application monitoring tools available that developers should utilize to see exactly how the end-user experience of their web page really looks.

Keep in mind that while web applications are built to deliver content for all kinds of browsers at once, in the mobile the opposite is true. To take advantage of this, it is important to build applications that send content in a way specifically tailored to each individual mobile browser, which avoids weighing down the browser with data it can’t use. This can mean multiple CSS files — one for each contingency, depending on browser type, version, device, and device OS, etc. The dimensions of the screen are also important to consider given that the physical space of most mobile phones is usually less than 4 inches. When building your web app, account for the limited screen size by removing the clutter. But remember, these are very hi-res screens, so don’t try to decrease the file size, as your visuals and graphics will suffer.

With all of the obstacles associated with creating a native application, optimizing a web application for mobile is an easier first step to addressing mobile users. Putting together that initial mobile web experience will also be helpful in the long run if you decide to pursue building a native app.

Brian Doll is an App Performance Engineer at New Relic.  Doll is a business-focused technologist who has been building things on the web for over 14 years.  He has extensive experience in retail, media, technology and financial service industries in both start-up and large enterprise environments. 

He enjoys speaking on lean engineering, web application performance and systems architecture.  Having been inspired by Ruby and reinvigorated by Rails, Brian has also been an avid contributor in the Ruby/Rails community since early 2007.