AA's Shields On Apps Vs. Mobile Web Sites

As a followup to our Monday article in The Beat about American Airlines' smartphone strategy, here are some techie tidbits that were not in the original piece. Asked about his thoughts on mobile apps versus mobile-enabled sites, which we also explored here, application architect John Shields said, "I came from the client-server days and then watched the dot-com era swing the pendulum back toward a more homogenized solution for Web application deployment. I feel the pendulum has swung a little bit back ...
"So with respect to travel specifically," Shields continued, "a totally Web-based solution was less than adequate at this stage in the game. One of the things we have a hard time doing is dealing with intermittent connectivity problems."

Despite "really good usage of cached data to keep information at the customer's fingertips--even when they go into things that were invented for us, for example 'airplane mode'--a completely mobile Web solution gets a little difficult there," Shields said. "I do see in the foreseeable future that the pendulum will swing back a little bit the other way, but to balance the tradeoff, we centralized all the business logic and rules about how we wanted to manage things on the back end, so although we do have customized front ends, that really is user interface-centric and not really rule- or behavior-centric."

He also said an example of the downloadable app's advantage is "when you get into blurring the lines between what's part of the app and what are the features provided by the phone. I can easily transition between my app and email, my app and dialing a phone call to the customer service desk, my app and the SMS client, calendar, etc. That type of native interaction and switching back and forth is much more seamless and integrated in a native app" than a mobile-enabled site.