Native UI is a mobile term, referred to a lot nowadays, especially in the context of Native v Web apps. I wanted to write a simple explanation of what it is, along with some context of how it affects your app and the user experience.
Native UI is the user interface elements that come with the operating system (OS) of a platform or product. This defines the look of the basic screen items such as a classic table list view, a checkbox, pop up, panel, status bars, as well as menu bars and primary typeface etc. It also defines the basic interactions and control patterns of the OS. A swipe gesture on the iPhone for example, is native to that platform. Web browsers also have a native UI for displaying items such as basic form elements, as well as other items not governed by custom CSS.
Using Native UI has advantages as well as disadvantages:
- Easier to build, developer pulls the required control from a toolkit, vs coding/building an entire control from scratch.
- Users already use key applications of that particular platform, such as email and calendar, so many of the interactions such as information procurement and navigation require little or no learning curve
- Apps on different platforms can look different and have different core patterns.
- Web app versions will look different.
- Your app won’t be device agnostic.
A homogenous UI is a wonderful thing, as the experience is common across all platforms, including web. It could also be argued that users of a certain platform expect to have their own subtle differences inherent to the platform they have chosen.
The difficult task of ensuring a consistent experience across iOS, Android and Windows Phone is one of greatest the challenges of mobile app design. I tend to design an entirely homogenous UI, only using native UI in cases where development of a custom control is too difficult or lengthy.
An app should not be about the platform, it should be about the brand and the experience, the controls should be perfunctory and common across all platforms.
An overarching primary navigation paradigm can transcend the differences in platform UI. Flipboard is a great example of this.