A Comparison: Native Apps vs Web Apps

Educating your client about the differences between Native Apps an
UX article - A Comparison: Native Apps vs Web Apps

Educating your client about the differences between Native Apps and Web Apps will help them to know what they in fact need, saving time and money. 

Native Mobile Apps

Native apps are developed specifically for a particular mobile device and are installed directly onto the device itself. Users download the app via app stores such as Apple App Store, Google Play store, etc.

Native apps are built for specific mobile operating system such as Apple iOS or Android OS. An app made for Apple iOS will not work on Android OS or Windows OS. So if you want your app to work across all major mobile operating systems, you must build separate apps for each operating system. This means more money and more effort (time, resources).

Before deciding whether to build a native app, you need to know the Pros and Cons of such an approach.

Pros

  • They can be used offline, which makes them faster to open and access anytime.
  • In some cases, the performance is faster because they store information locally and only synchronise with the server after the user is done using the app.
  • They allow the user to use device-specific hand gestures. Android and iOS are gradually developing different conventions for interaction, and a native app responds the way its user expects.
  • Native apps get the approval of the app store they are intended for, which means most of the time the user can be assured of improved safety and security of the app.
  • They allow direct access to device hardware that is either more difficult or impossible with a mobile app (camera, accelerometer, etc.)

Cons

  • More expensive to develop, especially when the app needs to be compatible with multiple mobile operating systems, thus multiplying the development costs.
  • Cost of app maintenance is higher (especially if this app supports more than one mobile platform).
  • Getting the app approved for the various app stores can prove to be long and tedious for the developer
  • Use of the app is contingent on the user's willingness to download and install the app onto their mobile device 

 

Mobile Web Apps

Web Apps are basically internet-enabled applications that are accessible via the mobile device's Web browser. Users don't need to downloaded and install the app onto mobile device in order to access it.

The app is written as web pages in HTML and CSS, with the interactive parts in Jquery, JavaScript or similar language. Meaning that single web app can be used on most devices capable of surfing the web, regardless of the operating system they use.

Let's see what the Pros and Con' of a mobile web app.

Pros

  • They are instantly accessible to users via a browser across a range of devices (iPhone, Android, Windows, etc.).
  • They are much easier to update or maintain by the developer. If you want to change the design or content of a mobile web app, you simply publish the update to the server and the changes are immediately visible.
  • They are much easier for users to discover since their pages can be displayed in search results and listed in common search engines such as Google or Bing.
  • Visitors to your regular website can be automatically sent to the mobile web app when they are on a handheld mobile device (using device detection).
  • Just like a standard website, mobile websites / web app can be developed as database-driven web applications that act very much like native apps.
  • The development is considerably more time and cost-effective than development of a native app, using programming languages and technologies that are more commonly understood and have a much larger developer base.

Cons

  • Mobile Web apps only have limited scope as far as accessing a mobile device's features is concerned (device-specific hand gestures, sensors, etc.).
  • There are so many variations between web browsers and browser versions and phones that it makes it challenging to develop a stable web-app that runs on all devices without any issues.
  • They are not listed in 'App Stores'. So if someone is looking for your app in the app store, they will be unable to discover it though such means.
  • Since there is no regularised quality control system for Web apps, users may not always be guaranteed safety and security of the app.
  • Web apps are unavailable when offline, even as a basic version.

So, which is better - a native app or a web app? It depends on your end goals. If your goal is to establish a broad mobile presence, then you should go for a mobile web app.

If your goal is to provide an application that needs to work more like a computer program than a website, rich with interaction, a native mobile app would be the best choice.

Considering a graduated approach from mobile web app to native app may make sense to many developers wanting to test the waters, however this may limit the scope of what's intending to be built.