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Deciding Between a Mobile App and a Web Application: A Comprehensive Guide

INSIGHTS | 5th April 2024

Article by Tom Passmore

With approximately 6.94 billion smartphones worldwide, and roughly 85% of the global population owning one, the shift towards mobile technology has led to a surge in app demand over the last decade. However, choosing between a native app and a web application involves more than understanding current trends; it's about aligning with your strategic goals and user needs. Before we explore the nuances of native apps vs. web applications, let's address a foundational question: Why do you need an app in the first place? 


The Ultimate Question: Why an App? 

If you want to offer personalised experiences for your users, apps are an excellent choice. They can provide unparalleled convenience, leverage mobile technology for unique experiences, or help reach a wider audience. However, when determining the need for custom app development, the choice between a native app or a web-based solution will likely be influenced by your broader objectives and which aligns best with these. 


Understanding Native Apps and Web Apps 

Before delving into which path suits your project, let's discuss what are the differences between native apps and web apps. 


Native Apps 

Developed for specific platforms, like iOS or Android, native apps are the epitome of custom mobile app development. These applications are crafted using platform-specific languages and tools, offering high performance, smooth animations, and direct access to a device's capabilities. 


Advantages of Native Apps: 

  • Optimised Performance: Tailored for specific platforms, ensuring fast and responsive user experiences. 
  • Rich User Experience: Follows the UI/UX standards of the platform, providing an intuitive interface. 
  • Advanced Features: Utilises device capabilities and APIs to their fullest potential. 
  • Offline Operation: Functions without internet connectivity, using the device's local storage. 


Web Apps 

Web apps are accessible websites designed to function like native apps but operate within a web browser. Built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, they ensure cross-platform compatibility, making them an attractive proposition for custom app development. 


Advantages of Web Apps: 

  • Cross-Platform Compatibility: Functions on any device with a web browser. 
  • Ease of Maintenance: Centralised updates ensure all users always have the latest version. 
  • No App Store Submission: Simplifies distribution by bypassing app store approvals. 
  • Linkability: URLs facilitate easy sharing and enhance discoverability. 


The Path to Choosing the Right Platform 


Offline Accessibility 

The need for offline access can tilt the scale towards native apps, known for their robust offline functionalities. This is a critical factor for apps requiring uninterrupted access to features or content. 


User Base: Desktop or Mobile? 

Identifying your target audience's device preference is key. A web application might serve better for a desktop-centric user base, while a native app offers a richer experience for mobile users. 


The Ease of Sharing 

Web applications stand out for their ease of sharing through URLs, a significant advantage when the app's content sharing is essential. 


Leveraging Device Capabilities 

The requirement to tap into device-specific features like the camera or Bluetooth might necessitate a native app, though progressive web apps (PWAs) are narrowing this gap. 


Distribution and Updates 

The straightforward distribution and updating mechanism of web apps offers an unmatched advantage in ensuring all users benefit from the latest enhancements immediately. 


The Cost 

The cost to build a native app vs. a web app can differ substantially. Native apps typically require a more significant investment, and if you want an app available on multiple platforms, it will necessitate cross-platform development. Web apps, on the other hand, are often cheaper and faster to develop, making your product-to-market time much shorter. Another aspect to consider with native apps is the revenue-sharing model of app stores, which takes a cut from in-app purchases. 


Native App case study – Samten   

Samten was an exciting new meditation and mindfulness app.  Following a disheartening launch to market with their first offer, the founders approached us to reimagine their app and bring their dream alive. Together we established their true vision and ambition for the app.  Focussing on delivering exceptional user experience, we took the time to really understand their customers and as a result created an app that has seen exceptional growth since its second launch. Check out our Samten case study 


Web App case study – Lonely Not Alone  

In 2021 Digital Wonderlab worked with Effervescent to create the Lonely Not Alone Universe; a highly visual interactive website that allowed young people between the ages of 12 and 25 to share their stories of loneliness and create a supportive community in the stars. 

Designed to stand alone for three months as part of the 2021 Lonely Not Alone campaign, yet the success of this campaign has meant that the universe remains live, alongside the community they have created. Check out our Lonely Not Alone case study. 


Wrapping Up 

The choice between a native app and a web application hinges on your specific needs, target audience, and strategic objectives. By engaging with a software development agency, you ensure your project aligns with your vision, delivering a user-centric experience that resonates with your audience. Whether opting for a native or web solution, the focus should always be on creating an engaging and seamless experience for your users. 

Interested in speaking to an expert on which app you should opt for or helping to build? Reach out today to see how we can help.  

About the author

Tom Passmore

Heads up the awesome “Devs” team and has the ability to make the impossible possible. Except shirt wearing – where he makes it impossibly loud to the teams delight, and proud to do so because he can!

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