Going Mobile: Should You Build a Web App or Native App?

Every single day we need to make choices. Should I work out or go out to dinner? Stay in the city or move to the suburbs? Splurge on a trip to Vegas or save up for my retirement fund? You catch the drift… In the business world, we are presented with the same crossroads and need to ask ourselves which is the better path to take. The saying is, there are no right or wrong decisions — only consequences. But, let’s be honest. Some decisions make more sense than others! Right now many businesses are at a point where they’re ready, and see the importance, of building out their mobile presence. However, the million dollar question they’re faced with is whether to create a native application for users or a mobile-ready web app. At first glance, native apps and web apps can look strikingly similar so it’s not unusual to question which is the better choice. To help figure out what path is better for your business to take, we put together a short guide evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of web apps and native apps. But first, let’s break down what makes each unique!

What’s the Difference Between Mobile-Ready Web Apps and Native Apps?

Both mobile-ready web apps and native apps can be accessed through a range of mobile devices. However, there are some major differences in the way they’re developed and accessed by users. A mobile web app – essentially a mobile friendly website with interactive functionality – can be accessed over any mobile browser when the mobile device is connected to WiFi or a cellular network. Unlike your usual website, mobile web apps are designed specifically for a smaller handheld display and touch-screen interface. Since all mobile devices come with a web browser, there’s no additional software or app that needs to be downloaded to the device in order for the app to be accessed. In contrast, a native app is built for a particular type of operating system (such as iOS, Android, Windows) and is installed directly to the device. Users need to go to app marketplaces like Apple’s App Store, Blackberry App World or Android Market to find and download the app.

A Comparison: Native Apps vs Web Apps

To help navigate which type of app is the better option to meet your needs, here’s a quick comparison between mobile web apps and native apps. Distribution Native mobile apps are coded for a specific type of device. For instance, an app written in Swift for iOS won’t be able to run on an Android device unless it’s completely rewritten in Java. A web app, on the other hand, is hosted on the web and can be accessed through any browser on a desktop or mobile device, as long there’s an internet connection, and the user knows the URL to access the mobile web app. With that said, native apps do have the advantage of the marketing and distribution of app stores like Google Play and Apple’s App store, which means it’s easier to get your app in the hands of a large user base. And, if you need to provide users access to content without a network/wireless connection a native app makes more sense. User Experience Traditionally, native mobile apps have had a leg up when it comes to the ability to craft a personalized experience for the user. However, web apps of today can be designed mobile first and offer an experience that rival that of native apps. Thanks to HTML5 and the introduction of browser APIs, the functionality gap is quickly narrowing. Web apps can now tap into device features and sensors including GPS, accelerometer, push notifications, microphone and camera location. Additionally, with mobile web apps you can ditch the hurdle of requiring mobile users to download and install the app from a marketplace before the app can be used. Ongoing Support Applications evolve over time, and when it comes to making frequent updates, having a native app can be rather painful. This is because updates to native mobile apps typically need to go through a lengthy approval process through the app stores. For instance, Apple asks developers to follow strict guidelines when submitting an app to the App Store, and it can take a week to several months for an app to get approved. And certain areas, such as in-app purchase and in-app subscriptions, are even more strictly regulated than others. On the other hand, web apps are easier and faster to evolve. You can quickly make as-needed updates, and your users can access the latest version of the app, without having to download each update. Development Cost Generally speaking, mobile web app development takes up significantly less time and is more cost-effective than development of a native app. The reason for this is simple. With web apps you only need one code base to make sure it’s accessible across all mobile platforms. Native apps must be compiled specifically for each target platform (iOS, Android, Windows), and because each platform has different user interface elements (menus, keyboards, icons, etc…), the design must be tweaked for each platform to achieve a native look and feel.

Final Thoughts

Mobile is the next frontier, and delivering an exceptional user experience can be one of the smartest decisions you make when it comes to advancing your business! As mentioned above, native mobile apps and mobile web apps offer many of the same benefits — but, at very different costs. In general, we advise our clients to begin with a mobile ready web application in order to get to market quickly. Then, with the app’s functionality in the wild, they can cost-effectively evolve the app based on user feedback. Once they have a clear understanding of the use cases and user interface requirements they can proceed to native application development if they find it necessary. Still not sure what solution is best? Feel free to contact us hello@purposebuiltsoftware.com or (877) 669-8989 if you want to talk through whether a native or web app is right for your business.