“Should we invest in building a mobile app or a web app?”
is one of the most burning questions bothering many entrepreneurs and decision-makers in both established and small companies alike. Given pretty high costs of software development and difficulties finding high-caliber software engineers fast, making the right choice is crucial for increasing bottom-line growth of any business.
This article aims to explore the fundamental differences between web and mobile applications, what it takes to build each, and what type of apps is best suited for what type of company/user needs.
In fact, there’s no rocket science when it comes to deciding between building a mobile app or a web app. All you need to do is evaluate your choice against several criteria and ask yourself questions like:
- What goal(s) are we trying to achieve with this solution?
- Who will be the target audience of our solution?
- How much am I ready to invest in its development?
- Will I need to scale/upgrade my product in the months to come or will the features stay unchanged for a while?
A rule of thumb is to try to derive insight into your target users’ most critical needs and select the right set of functional and non-functional features to make sure your web or mobile solution caters specifically to that hidden truth about your target audience, as well as its challenges and/or bottlenecks.
But first off, let’s define both types of apps and see how they differ.
A web application is a client-server application (where “client” is a browser, and “server” is a web server), in which data is stored on the server, and data exchange takes place over the network. This means that the user needs access to the Internet to work with the web application.
A distinctive feature of web applications is the scale: it can be used simultaneously by a large number of people.
One of the advantages of choosing the client-server application is the fact that users do not depend on the operating system, so web applications are platform-agnostic.
The disadvantage of the client-server solution is its dependency on the network. Unlike mobile apps that can be used offline, web apps need a connection to the web to perform its function. In roaming, you can pay through the nose for viewing web apps, so they can be pretty cost-ineffective in some cases.
Another apparent advantage of web applications is that they do not require installation on your smartphone or gadget. As such, they do not take up memory on the device (just a little bit of cache), unlike mobile apps.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that in terms of functionality, the development of a mobile application requires more resources and a higher investment than building a client-server app. From this perspective, a web application is the right choice, especially if you’re looking to create something basic or straightforward like a news feed app.
Also, the advantage of developing web applications is that you can always update them at any time, and this does not cause any difficulties: after that, the new version of the app will be available to all users.
However, as a rule, web and mobile apps come together, and mobile-first approach has gained a lot of traction in the past months. So, why do mobile apps seem to be more preferred among businesses than web apps? Let’s delve into the details.
A mobile app is a computer program or software application designed specifically to run on a mobile device such as a smartphone, tablet, or watch. Mobile apps are typically divided into two main types: native apps and hybrid, or cross-platform ones.
Native mobile apps are built for a specific platform, such as iOS for Apple devices and OS or Android for Google, Samsung, and other non-Apple devices. They are downloaded and installed via a respective app store and have access to system resources, such as GPS, camera, photo library, etc. Snapchat, Instagram, Google Maps, and Facebook Messenger are just some examples of popular mobile apps used by millions of people worldwide.
With native applications, companies can drive additional value by providing users with a convenient way of getting “haves” for their “wants”. These are just some of the advantages of building native mobile apps over web apps:
- Geolocation features allow companies to customize their loyalty programs, promotions and special offers, as they can be pinpointed to physical locations such as brick-and-mortar stores;
- Data from user actions (or inactions) can be easily collected and analyzed, making it easier to assess the effectiveness of apps, how they impact user behavior and make a difference, etc.;
- Native apps tend to work and “feel” better than web apps. The latter are sometimes created to simulate native apps (we’ll talk about progressive apps down the road), but they are limited by the Internet speed and in UX design.
However, there are some disadvantages of, namely:
- Native applications are often more expensive to develop, especially for companies that need solutions on cross-platform operating systems;
- Native apps must be approved by each app store, which can be pretty time-consuming;
- Whenever you upgrade, scale or improve your app, you need to re-submit it for app store approval, and your users will need to download the updated version again.
Pros and Cons of Mobile and Web Apps
Once again, let’s recap the pros and cons of each type of applications.
Pros of web apps
- From a user perspective, you don’t need to install any special software on your device, so you have enough free space to store your images, music files, etc.;
- From a developer perspective, building client-server applications is way cheaper than creating mobile apps;
- When updates are made to a web application, they apply automatically without the need for approval from any app store, and users can see changes immediately;
- Web-based applications are easier to support and can run on any OS;
Cons of web apps
- Web applications do not have access to the user device, which impedes personalization;
- Web apps can only be used over the network, which dramatically reduces security control and makes them vulnerable to cyber-attacks and phishing;
- Finding an application can be difficult because there is no app store with a directory and search function in it.
You may have heard of progressive web apps, so it makes sense to include them in this review, too.
Progressive web apps
Progressive web apps are, in fact, websites that look and feel like a web app. Their most significant advantage is that, unlike web apps, they can work autonomously without Internet access, and users can access their data while offline. So they provide an app-like experience right in the browser and can send users push-notifications just like a mobile app.
However, progressive web apps only mimic mobile apps, while, in fact, being just browser shells, not full-fledged apps. Their greatest disadvantage is that they aren’t compatible with Apple devices and are only suited for Google devices and OS.
Now let’s move on to native mobile apps.
Pros of native mobile apps
- From a user perspective, native apps provide the best UX ever, as they offer unparalleled personalization features including push notifications, pop-ups, and dialogue boxes, search recommendations by location or preferences, discounts and special offers catered to each particular user needs;
- Native apps can work offline and store data locally on the device;
- From a developer perspective, there’re many modules and libraries for solving everyday development tasks;
- They perform well on all mobile platforms, as they’re optimized specifically for each;
- Native apps can access device hardware, so it’s the only way for your digital product to harness the power of IoT;
- Native apps let you leverage advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, or AR/VR, while web apps can’t take advantage of the progressive tech and offer rather generic experiences.
Cons of native mobile apps
- Native mobile app development is much more expensive than web app dev, as you need to hire mobile developers skilled in different tech stacks for each target platform;
- Native mobile app development takes longer than building web or hybrid applications.
Examples of successful web and native mobile apps
While many businesses today tend to build and launch solutions that would work on a broad range of platforms, devices, and OS, having a popular and successful web or mobile app only makes sense too, as it allows you to funnel all of your ideas and efforts into driving and promoting just one product.
TOP WEB APPS
- Pixlr.com is one of the best photo editing web apps that’s perfectly suited for people who need to make quick fixes to their images without the knowledge of advanced design tools like Photoshop or Illustrator. According to SimilarWeb, Pixlr is used by nearly 10 million people monthly. With such a user base, you don’t need to make any additional investments in creating mobile apps.
- Trello is one of the most preferred and widely used tools among the software, marketing, and creative teams. It’s a simpler version of robust apps like Atlassian Jira and is perfectly suited as a task management system for small teams. Trello boasts more than 1.1 million daily active users and 14 million total signups.
- Evernote is one of the most famous note-taking and task management web apps used by an estimated 225 million people and over 20,000 companies all over the world.
- GrubHub is an online food ordering and delivery marketplace that connects diners with local takeout restaurants. Based in Chicago just like ByteCraft, the web app has almost 20 million active users and 115,000 associated restaurants across 2,200 U.S. cities.
TOP MOBILE APPS
- Uber is the world’s most famous taxi apps used by 95 million users every month. It has completely disrupted the traditional transportation system by offering peer-to-peer ridesharing, bicycle sharing, ride service hailing and other personalization features not seen anywhere else before.
- Starbucks mobile app is ahead of Apple in terms of mobile payments, according to ZDNet. The mobile app brought Starbucks $23.4 million in revenues in 2018. Their rewards system is also something that is highly valued by customers. By being a Starbucks Rewards member, customers are able to redeem free food and drink offers.
3. DOMINO’S PIZZA
- Domino’s Pizza also has one of the most successful Android and iPhone apps in the food and beverage category boasting over 1,000,000 downloads, and 230,000 5-star reviews on Android alone.
Is it still unclear to you what type of app to build and how to monetize it? Feel free to get in touch, and we’ll be happy to consult and assist!