There is some general misunderstanding in regards to the differences between mobile applications and web applications — which I will refer to from here on as ‘app’ and ‘web app’. They are even sometimes mistakenly thought of as being one and the same, when in fact, they are vastly different. This is the case all around, from the developers’ perspective, all the way to the end users’ point of view. Many of these dissimilarities are subtle by nature, and often times you could use either-or to build an online service or tool, making it difficult to decide which one would be better suited to accomplish the goal in mind. This article explores some of the major differences in order to assist in that decision making process.
At its core, a web app is a website. Overall the same as the normal websites you visit on your desktop, but developed in such a way that it is well suited for use on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. This applies to both visual and functional aspects. On a desktop with a larger screen and an ultra-precise user interface (the mouse), a user is able to navigate a highly complex website with ease. This is not the case in the scope of mobile devices, of course. Not only is there less screen real estate, and therefore less data can be shown without scrolling, but our stubby human fingers prevent us from precisely clicking links, when compared to the pointer of a mouse. This especially holds true when multiple links in a small area. Because of this, web apps usually look exactly like mobile apps, but the former is accessed via a typical web browser. As far as maintenance goes, web apps will update themselves, if their main branch is updated. This gives developers more control over the particular version that all users are using.
Mobile apps are those things on your phone’s home screen that you downloaded from the app store, and those that came preinstalled on your device. Since they are basically integrated in your phones operating system, two individual apps must be built in order to serve both iOS and Android user bases. This makes the cost, as well as the time of development double when compared to the development of a web app. Mobile apps however also have many advantages over their browser based counterpart. They have greater access to additional system resources (such as GPS, camera functions, etc.) meaning tools built into the mobile device can be utilized quicker, and on a deeper level than what is possible for web apps. Mobile apps live solely on your phone, which means they can be used offline, if developed in such a way. Web apps on the other are always reliant on an internet connection. The remoteness of an app on your device means that it is usually safer to use than a web app. A downside of existing only on your device is that any update the developer makes must be downloaded and installed by the user. This means that the developer cannot fully control the version that every user has, and in turn they must maintain multiple versions of the app simultaneously.
If You Build It, They Will Come
When faced with the decision of whether to choose a web app or a mobile app, it may seem like splitting hairs. In all honesty, depending on the specifics of your platform, either will work. If the product is good, and the interface is pleasant, users will do what they do best: they will use your platform. The factors to pay attention to are directly related to the intended usage of the product, as well as the facilities necessary to allow for such usage. Do you need to access the users’ location, or allow the user to take a picture directly on your site? An app is probably right for you. Do you already have a desktop site, and just want to transfer that content to a mobile platform? Are you also under a deadline and/or have a lower budget? A web app seems to be better suited for you. All in all, you should decide what is best for your product.
Further Reading:- Haubrich, Maria Valdez. “Mobile Apps vs. Web Apps: What’s the Difference?” SmallBizDaily, 4 Feb. 2020, www.smallbizdaily.com/mobile-apps-vs-web-apps-whats-the-difference.- Stevens, Emily. “What Is The Difference Between A Mobile App And A Web App?” Career Foundry, 3 Apr. 2018, careerfoundry.com:443/en/blog/web-development/what-is-the-difference-between-a-mobile-app-and-a-web-app.- “The Difference Between A Mobile App And A Web Application.” Webfitters, 11 Apr. 2019, www.webfitters.com/insights/the-difference-between-a-mobile-app-and-a-web-application.