Understanding the Difference Between a Web App and a Native App
With the recent popularity of web apps a lot of people have a hard time understanding the difference between a web app and a native app. This is not surprising since once both are installed on your smartphone, both types of apps work in very similar ways. In brief, native apps are downloaded from an app store (primarily iTunes or Google Play), while web apps are mobile-optimized micro websites that are designed and programmed to look and function like an app.
In most cases, after a native app has been installed onto the smartphone, it can work without requiring a connection to the internet. However, in reality, most informational native apps, will also rely on an internet connection to render the most up-to-date content.
A web app always works via web browser used by the smartphone, and as such, it requires a connection to the internet to navigate through the app just like you would do through any other website.
As opposed to the native app that is platform dependent (Apple or Android), a web app has the unique advantage of being able to function on all devices, which makes it a preferred choice for many companies today. Users first access a web app as they would access any web page: they navigate to a special URL -sometimes by scanning a QR Code- and then they have the option of “installing” the app on their home screen by creating a bookmark to that page.
When HTML5 came around, the popularity of web apps really increased. A lot of companies and marketers realized that they can create the same native app functionality in a browser environment. It is no surprise that today, differentiating between some native apps and their web apps counterparts has become more difficult for the average user.
A perfect example of a native app converted to a web app is the Financial Times Web App. If you used to have FT’s native app installed on your smartphone, you probably realized that FT removed it from the Apple store back in 2011. That’s because they decided to change it to a web app format to provide a more up-to-date user experience to their readers while keeping full control of their content. By doing that, they also bypass relying on Apple’s App Store or Google Play subscription fees or updates schedule. When you install the new web app on your phone, you discover that it looks and works very much like any other native app used to work.
Which Type of App is Best for Your Business?
As you can expect, the answer is “it depends.” All I can tell you is that at MGR Consulting Group we are producing many more web apps today than native apps. But let’s highlight some of the key points for each of them here so you can make your own decision.
Platform Dependency. Native apps need two separate versions created for each of them based on iOS or Android platforms. They also need to be submitted separately to Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Web apps do not require two versions of each app since in effect, they are a small mobile optimized website and one version will work on all smartphones.
Production Costs: Based on the above, in general, a web app is much less expensive to develop than a native app. Not only is the programming language much more universal (HTML5, JQuery, etc.) but they can also be hosted on your existing web server without requiring submissions or update notifications on either Apple or Google App stores.
Maintenance. Just like it is the case with production costs, maintaining a native app and updating it is more complicated for both users and developers. Users will need to install or download updates when notified (push notifications) but developers will also require more programming time to update the native app than the web app. For the native app, after the changes are completed, it will need to be re-submitted to the app store. On the other hand, updating the web app is just as easy as updating a web page, and it can be done frequently and inexpensively.
Offline functioning. If offline functionality is a must, a native app will still work without internet connectivity. Web apps offer in-browser caching in HTML5 making some pages of the web app still available offline, but overall, without connectivity, the web app is not as effective as a native app.
Installation. Installing a native app is sometimes is a turn-off for users, but not necessarily difficult. Similarly, installing the web app also involves adding a bookmark on the home screen. Most web apps offer quick one-click instructions to do this although some users may not be used to adding bookmarks to their home screen on their smartphone.
Navigation Speed. Of course, without an internet connection, the web app will not be very functional. However, if the internet connection is fast, the navigation speed between the web app and the native app will be very similar. With apps that require a lot of data or photography, a native app will typically be faster.
File Size. In this category, the web app beats the native app. If you’re concerned about the available space on your smartphone, then adding multiple native apps will rapidly put you over the limit. Web apps do not require any hard drive space since the content is not actually downloaded to your phone.
Search Engine Friendliness. Since web apps are in effect, small websites, a web app that is properly optimized will be found through Search Engines much more easily than a native app. As it is the case for any regular website, for the web app content is king too and when users are looking for information through search engines, a web app is more likely to appear on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) than a native app that can only be found at the app stores.
As you can see, native apps and web apps use a different approach to provide ‘ready-to-see’ content to mobile users. Which one is best for you will depend on your particular needs. If you need more information or if you would like our team to help you make a decision, please contact me through the comments section below or through MGR Consulting Group and I’ll be glad to give you my recommendation.
Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)