At EatStreet, we’re all about convenience. Our story began with a couple hungry college kids who were too lazy to reach for the phone to call a restaurant. The next chapter in the EatStreet saga is shaking things up a bit; we’re giving hungry people everywhere the ability to order food right from their phone without having to make a call in the process. That’s right, we’re referring to our snazzy new apps.
EatStreet’s apps give a pretty interesting window into how we do business at our headquarters in Madison, WI. Like every decision we make, it started with you, the customer. We had a mobile friendly website that did the job, and we were amazed to see an increasing number of sales every week being placed from our users’ phones. Every Monday, all twenty of us have an analytics driven meeting where we dive into the numbers from previous weeks. At a certain point we realized our mobile market was growing the fastest, even though we were not offering an app. We even started placing bets internally to see who could most accurately project growth (which got pretty wild).
It was time. We decided to build the first EatStreet app. Consequently, the Product Managers and Engineers had a few interesting choices on their hands:
1. HTML5 vs Native
2. Prioritization of technical resources.
The first debate is vastly more interesting. When you browse the web on your computer or in your phone’s web browser, all content is displayed from a templating language called HTML. It’s a universal standard that determines the look and feel of your website. You can actually see the HTML of a page by right clicking on the page and clicking “View Source.” Here’s how EatStreet looks:
The reason HTML5 rocks is that it automatically works on any and every device you come across. If your phone has a web browser, it supports HTML5. It’s great because you can kill many birds with one stone; a mobile app in HTML5 is effectively a mobile website disguised as an app, so 99.99999% of your work translates directly across platforms.
The alternative is a fully native app. Native apps are programmed specifically for the world they live in; there is no code or work shared between the iPhone and Android native app. Android apps are written in a language called Java and iOS apps are written in Objective-C.
Our decision was to develop a native app for both iOS and Android, and we’re happy about our decision. We have a HTML5 mobile website for EatStreet that we put considerable time and energy into, but it was never quite ready for primetime. Our primary objective has always been to be the “Best in Business” at whatever offerings we put out. It’s pretty easy to understand why a native app would perform best in most circumstances. Our apps talk directly to the iPhone or Android phone with no middle man. An HTML5 app is basically running a web browser, which is an app itself. So HTML5 talks to the web browser which in turn talks to the phone. This is analogous to having two people speaking to each other in English as opposed to having a translator sitting in the middle.
Disclaimer: HTML5 rocks. It will be the future of mobile and already is in many cases. Many of the best apps out there (LinkedIn, the iOS app store, etc.) are HTML5 apps. What we found is that the folks behind those apps had incredible knowledge of HTML5 performance in a way that we currently did not. It was a question of investing a lot of time into becoming experts on HTML5 app optimization or investing time into learning how to best make mobile apps which would perform well right out of the box. We chose the latter.
The next interesting dilemma was how to prioritize the development of the apps in light of all kinds of other interesting ongoing efforts within the company. When you make an app, until that app is done and in the App Store, it has no direct benefit to daily operations. As a result, during the six months it took to make the apps, all kinds of other innovative new features were developed on our flagship EatStreet.com.
Overall, the process of bringing a whole new product to market has been awesome for our engineering team. A year ago, we weren’t EatStreet — we were a collection of locally branded websites in twenty cities nationwide. The combined effort required to totally reinvent our core product last January and then release entirely new fully featured products in the last month has resulted in some late nights, a lot of Red Bull, but ultimately some very important changes that we are incredibly proud of.
Keep your eyes peeled for new products and features in the near future. The best is yet to come! In the mean time, download our free app for iOS or Android:
Now go order a sandwich,
Eric Martell, Co-Founder and COO at EatStreet