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Web Apps or Native Mobile Apps - Which Are Better?

There is no doubt that mobile use of the internet is growing exponentially. Larger screen sizes have made it easier to enjoy web content directly from your phone or tablet. So when developing for a mobile device, which is better a web app or a native mobile app?

We often receive requests to develop "mobile applications" (mobile apps) but usually, for the majority of our clients, what they really need is a "web application" (web app) - essentially a mobile friendly website.

A web application is a program that runs in a web browser -- whether on a desktop or mobile device. It uses browser-supported programming language like HTML 5, JavaScript and CSS and uses the web browser to render the application.

Since mobile devices and computers all come with web browsers there is no additional software or separate app to install - you merely visit a page or website in your existing browser to use the web application.

Thus web apps are different than a standalone mobile application. Standalone native mobile apps are independent software programs that must be download and installed on mobile devices in order to use the particular app - generally from the Google Play or Apple App Store.

The main disadvantage of standalone native mobile apps is that they are extremely costly to develop -- as they must be developed independently for both the Google Play and Apple App Store (and occasionally Windows).

The downside of this is that each platform generally uses an entirely different programming language. Applications for iOS are generally programmed in Objective C -- and all apps created for iOS device must be approved by Apple before they would be available for download -- so you must develop the app and then get approval. Approval is not guaranteed.

Android apps are programmed in languages like Java -- which is distinct and entirely different from JavaScript which often runs client side functionality on many websites.

Thus it generally is quicker and less expensive to develop a web app than a mobile app.

Web apps also have the advantage of not requiring the user to download an additional app in the first place. People creating mobile apps have the additional hurdle of getting the user to download the app in the first place - which maybe difficult if your app is new or not well known.

Developers can quickly make updates to a web app as needed without requiring users to download the update (as mobile apps require) or get Apple approval for iOS updates.

If you have an unlimited budget and are being funded by VC (venture capital) money, perhaps it makes sense to develop a mobile app for each platform -- but the costs and implementation timelines are much greater for mobile apps. Often to save money a company will start with the mobile app only for one platform - say Apple iOS, but then you risk missing out on the even larger Android user base. Whereas, a web application can work on both Android and Apple devices (as well as on computers and laptops).

An example of a mobile app that is currently only available on iOS devices is dating app Bumble. You will notice from their Facebook page that pretty much every other comment is a request for them to support Android devices. If developing a broad user base mobile app, you should plan and budget on developing for both iOS and Android.
 
One advantage of creating a native mobile app is that "location sharing" is fairly seamless and accurate. This could be important for an app that requires exact geolocation. That said, mobile browsers like Chrome and Firefox also allow the sharing of geolocation with a website/web app, but the sharing generally requires a visual approval prompt before the sharing will occur.

Unless your underlying business idea really requires and independent mobile app to succeed, you would likely get far more "bang for your buck" in developing a web application to first establish a user base, and then potentially develop a native mobile app later if there is a good business justification for it.


And finally, we'll say it is very important that your company website is mobile-friendly and optimized with responsive web design techniques to resize and adapt to different display resolutions regardless of whether you opt to develop a native mobile app or not.