If you’ve started to research app development options for your project, you have probably already come across the terms ‘web app’ and ‘native app’. Both types of apps have their time and place, depending on how the app will be used. First, let’s quickly discuss the main differences between the two, and then why you might want to use one over the other for your particular use case.
Native apps are coded specifically for a mobile app platform, such as iOS or Android, and are downloaded from those respective app stores. Once downloaded, a native App runs directly on the mobile device without an internet connection required. A native mobile app can fully utilize and integrate with the native features and functionalities of a mobile device such as push notifications, GPS, camera/video, device pairing, voice, accelerometer, etc.
A web app is simply a website, which requires internet connection to run, and is specifically designed to be viewed in an optimized fashion on most any mobile device. Whatever the type of mobile device you have, the web app will adapt to display properly on that device. In many ways, a web app looks and functions somewhat like a native mobile app, but it does not need to be downloaded or installed on the mobile device. With a web app, you also have a close to ready-made website for desktop users, in addition to the obvious mobile website that you have created with a web app. With Search Engine Optimization, having a desktop website can further your marketing reach and app discoverability.
The main advantage to native mobile apps is that a user generally has a faster and more engaging experience while using the app. This is because all of the powerful native device functionality can be completely integrated within the app; and information can be cached in the app, rather than relying on the speed of the user’s Internet connection. The downside of a native app is the total cost and time involved to design, develop, test and publish the apps for two separate mobile operating platforms.
Now that you have a basic understanding of a web app and a native app, we’ll throw in one more little variant to the standard web app. We bring this up only because we don’t want you caught ‘flat-footed’ when some IT geek throws out this seemingly killer third option — the progressive web app. The PWA utilizes advancements in application caching which allows a standard web app to work better offline, and to utilize some of the mobile native features such as push notifications, video and audio. Sounds like a no brainer way to go, right? Unfortunately, in our experience in working with PWAs we’ve found that, while most of the native feature utilization enhancements work OK on Android devices, many of them come up very short and often feel a little ‘buggy’ on iOS devices, which limits the PWA to more of a ‘half step’ forward option, or even a bad option, in many application instances. Advancements to mobile browser technology will, no doubt, continue to improve the PWA as a viable third option.
At the end of the day, what does all this mean for you and your particular application project? The key takeaway is to make sure you evaluate what device-native features your app users will actually need, relative to your budget constraints. At Epic Apps, we’ve created many robust and engaging web apps for clients, where there was very little need for the user to have a native app to engage with the client’s platform. On the other hand, there are many app use cases that couldn’t exist but for the full integration of one or more key native device features. If you aren’t sure, we are always happy at Epic Apps to discuss the best options for you in a free consultation.