Web Apps vs Native Mobile Apps

Oct 10, 2018 9:05:00 AM

shutterstock_1108368557From the “It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again” Department

Previously in this space, we discussed the relative merits of web applications in comparison with native apps for desktop platforms, such as Windows and Mac. Today we examine the question: Are there similar advantages and disadvantages with regard to native mobile apps?

Spoiler Alert: Yes

The mobile world is similar to the desktop world in that mobile platforms support native apps (that is, those that you download from an app store) and web apps (rendered in a browser or as a progressive web app). Many of the advantages of the web app approach are similar as well.

  • Like desktop web apps, mobile web apps require only one code base that works on any browser on any device, which saves development time, resources, and expertise. (That said, to deliver the same web app on both desktop and mobile platforms, developers may need to keep two or more versions, one for each form factor, as part of a responsive web design approach.)
  • Also like desktop web apps, mobile web apps can delegate computationally heavy tasks to back-end servers. This is an even more important consideration for mobile, because most mobile devices have less capable processors than their desktop counterparts, and rely on limited battery power.
  • Mobile web apps are updated on the server side, and there’s little or no chance that a web app update will cause a conflict with another app or the device’s operating system.
  • To make a native mobile app available in an app store, certain development and coding requirements have to be met, and certain design standards must be observed. Jumping through all the hoops for one app store can be difficult enough, let alone two or more. With web apps, even progressive web apps, none of these requirements apply. However, the design standards are pretty good ideas, and should be observed in mobile web apps, too, if one of the user experience goals is to match the native app look and feel as much as possible.

Whither Native Mobile Apps?

You’ll notice, however, that the mobile app stores aren’t suffering from a lack of apps to choose from. Far from it: The number, variety, and usefulness of apps available on the app stores continues to grow apace. With all the advantages of mobile web apps, should we expect that growth to slow, or even reverse?

Probably not. Like their desktop counterparts, native mobile apps have advantages over web apps in certain scenarios:

  • Hardware and OS feature access. Mobile web apps suffer from the same limitations that desktop web apps do when it comes to hardware access. Access to Bluetooth transceivers, Near-Field Communication (NFC) radios, GPS, inertial sensors, camera, and other hardware goodies crammed into modern mobile devices is difficult or impossible. Similar limitations apply to access to OS features, such as the file system, contacts, payment accounts, notifications, and so on. Because part of the point of a mobile application is to be able to take advantage of those hardware and software features, this can be perceived as a bigger limitation for mobile platforms than it is for the desktop.
  • Monetization. Native mobile apps available on a web store are limited in the ways they can generate revenue, mainly purchase price, in-app purchases, and in-app advertising. For the latter, the app owner may be locked in to a certain ad service as a condition of posting the app in the store. Web apps don’t have these limitations; however, a major advantage of the app store is that all the payment processing and commissions are handled by the app store, removing from the app owner the burden of setting up the revenue streams, which for web apps must be done on an app-by-app basis.

So, just like native desktop apps, there’s a place in the world for native mobile apps, and probably always will be, especially if cross-platform development tools continue to improve and enable the development process for iOS and Android with a single code base.

And just as with the choice of native vs. web desktop app, AndPlus has the expertise to help make the choice of native vs. web mobile app. Perhaps the answer is “both,” an approach many businesses are taking. Whatever the case, let us apply our experience and know-how to guide your mobile app project in the right direction.

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Brian Geary

Written by Brian Geary

Brian is a true believer in the Agile process. He often assists the development process by performing the product owner role. In addition to his technical background, he is an experienced account manager with a background in design and marketing.

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