Mobile: Web vs Native App

In simple terms, a web app is software predominantly run on a server that users access via a network-connected web browser - therefore, a web app can be considered multi-platform. A native app is software you download and install on a specific device, so different apps have to be produced and released for different mobile devices. So do you really need an 'app' for a single device? Would your money be better spent on something that would work in any browser on any device?

The term 'app' is thrown around a lot: it's in the news a lot and we are constantly prompted to 'download our app' on websites. An app is application software, which delivers a specific set of functions; the most visible apps are the mobile applications commonly used on smartphones and tablets.

There are two types of apps you will encounter:

  • Web apps
  • Native Apps

Each have their own merits, but it's important to understand the distinction between the two.


Web Apps

These are software applications that are installed on a server, which users access via a network connection and a browser on their device.

In theory, web apps are cross-platform compatible, and good apps will work well on a variety of screen sizes and device types, from a mobile phone to a large desktop. Typically no additional software needs to be installed, although some web apps may require a plugin.

Main Benefits:

    • In theory, the market and audience is far wider as high performance smartphones are not necessarily required.
    • A lot of users don't feel comfortable installing software on their device, but happy using a browser. So the barrier to entry is effectively reduced.
    • The application should only require one iteration of design and build so that it will run on all platforms with minimal tweaking.
    • The application is effectively immune to the trends in the mobile hardware market.
    • The end users do not need to install updates: all maintenance and feature improvements only need to be installed on the main server, and are instantly available to everyone.
    • You are free [within international and national laws] to place whatever content you wish into a web app.
    • You have complete control of the financial model for distribution of your app - no 'app store' will be taking a proportion of any charges you make.

Native Apps

These are software applications that have to be installed directly onto the device and have code specifically customised to the hardware.

Main Benefits:

  • They do not necessarily require network connectivity, and are optimised for the device concerned, so the performance is generally far better.
  • The design of the app is not constrained by HTML, CSS and JavaScript, so aspects such as animation and sound can provide a far richer, immersive experience.
  • There is a far greater use of the device's hardware such as the camera, accelerometers and GPS.
  • It is easier to integrate with other software such as email and contact information.
  • App stores can be a great marketing tool, and a valuable way to promote your product. So you could dramtically increase sales with the increased findability.

So what to choose? It depends on what you want your application to do.

There's always a half-way house that reduces your risk and allows you to develop iteratively. You can develop your application via the web; once it is relatvily mature, you can use this as a backend system, but provide a lightweight native app for specific use cases.

At Cognimatic, we generally produce web apps. We always encourage our customers to use a responsive design, so that the app can work as well on small mobile device as it would on a desktop system.

Want more help? Contact us, or ask for a quote.