How well are businesses using mobile phone technology? A new report from Forrester says things aren't great yet -- but they're improving.

The report, "The State of Mobile Technology Adoption," found that building mobile services for eBusiness professionals continues to be challenging, even though there is now more expertise available to do so. One key reason is that the mobile platform environment is fragmented, with iOS, BlackBerry, various flavors of Android and some Windows phones across the U.S. mobile phone landscape.

Limited Development Budgets

That fragmentation, the report said, translates “directly into higher development and maintenance costs for eBusiness professionals.” While an industry has evolved to simplify the development and distribution of mobile services -- including nearly 100 middleware platform vendors -- the report noted that eBusiness professionals must be prepared to operate in the current environment.

But even if the fragmentation is reduced, the report said, there’s the issue of development budgets. It found that most eBusiness professionals only have enough funding to support the basics, with less than US$ 500,000 to spend annually for 56 percent of those surveyed. Only 39 percent felt their mobile efforts were being funded at an adequate level.

The report, which queried 245 professionals, noted that eBusiness professionals must count on spending between US$ 500,000 and US$ 1 million annually for high-performing native applications and mobile-optimized websites, “to keep pace with hardware, OS and other software updates.”

Hybrid Apps: An Inexpensive Alternative to Native Apps

On the positive side, the report said that eBusiness professionals have “nailed the mobile basics” with limited resources. While only 56 percent of respondents say they currently have a mobile-optimized website (including about half of those with an HTML5 website), 91 percent expect to have one by the end of 2012.

The report also noted that 97 percent plan to have native applications before 2013. “For those eBusiness professionals seeking a high-quality user interface, the ability to tap into device features, and/or an offline experience, native applications are a must,” the study said.

Although the report encouraged businesses to budget adequately to deliver native mobile services on a range of platforms, it suggested that hybrid apps “offer an inexpensive alternative to native apps,” and are appropriate for marketing-focused scenarios in which extensive content is frequently revised, such as short-lived marketing apps, catalogs or content-heavy travel apps.

While native apps are written to a specific platform in order to optimize performance and the ability to access device capabilities such as a camera, hybrid apps use web technologies like HTML5 and run inside a native container, with a web-to-native layer that enables access to the device resources. 

Editor's note: For a discussion on hybrid apps, read "Mobile Apps or Mobile Web? Siteworx's Tim McLaughlin Speaks Out."  For a how-to on optimizing your mobile site, check out "How to Optimize Your Mobile Website."