The Case for Mobile Web Apps

December 22nd, 2011  |  1 Comment

There is much talk of late as to mobile this and App that…

So, what is the difference between a mobile web app and a native app?

In its simplest form, a Mobile Web App (also known as a “web app”) runs with all or parts of its software downloaded from somewhere on the internet each time the app executes.

A native app, on the other hand, is designed to run on a specific device’s operating system and firmware. (think iPhone app) In order to run on other devices a native app will either have to be completely rebuilt or some adaptations will need to be made.

Web apps, however, don’t tend to be as popular as native apps, and there are two primary reasons why:

  • Because of the “cool” factor of native apps, vendors are more interested in promoting native apps than web apps
  • You can take more advantage of Native phone functions with a Native app, i.e. Push notifications, access to native functions (take a photo/choose existing photo)

Why might you use mobile apps instead of native apps?


Each type of app has its own distinct advantages.  The strengths of Mobile Web Apps mostly benefit application developers.  Here are some of the advantages they enjoy:

  • Total control over distribution of the app
  • Web apps are typically cheaper and faster to create
  • They take advantage of existing web technologies like JavaScript and CSS (and HTML5), making the technical barriers to create a web app lower than Native.
  • Skilled web app developers are easier to find than programmers who know the iPhone’s Objective-C
  • Web apps are run on browsers, making device-specific customization much less difficult
  • W3C is heading an effort involving browser vendors and handset manufacturers and operators to allow Web apps access to a variety of device capabilities

While web apps have many distinct advantages, they do have one drawback. The user needs to download most, if not all, of the data for the Mobile Web App. (Roaming data charges apply). With a Native App you are able to package the information into the phone for seamless access and playback.


Two Very Alluring Features of Web Apps


Not only do web apps have some of the benefits listed above, but they also have three distinct features businesses love.

The first is that, for simple applications, you can pretty easily wrap up a HTML5 web app into a native app ‘wrapper’, so you still have the ability to push it Native.

The second, and probably the most significant feature, lies in the fact web apps aren’t sold through an app store.  Apple’s app store is notorious for taking 30% of a company’s app sales and withholding important consumer data.

Thirdly, you reach a wider audience versus limiting yourself to one platform, or having to develop for multiple platforms. (i.e. iOS, Android, WP7/8)

Since web apps run through your browser, companies who would rather not lose this revenue and consumer data, such as fashion magazine Marie Claire (who optimized its site for the iPad) and London’s Financial Times paper (who launched its site as an HTML 5 web app), have found their own ways of working around the drawbacks of native apps. And the word on the street is that a Jivaldi client, Mountain Mikes Pizza, is going to release something soon here? :)


So, are native apps or web apps better?


While native apps are ‘sexy’ to build and promote, they still need to provide something useful for potential customers.  Many times companies will often become so wound up with the “cool” factor that they forget to make the app useful and build it for their customer. The result? Very few people actually download the app.

While there are obvious instances of why certain apps should be native (i.e. games) this article was written to highlight the potential advantages of Mobile Web Apps. The truth is that either option works well in the right set of circumstances.  If you take the time to consider the following questions, you’ll come up with the right solution to your problem:

  • Who is my audience?
  • Do the reasons for going native outweigh the need to reach beyond, say, iPhone users?
  • What is the goal of my app?
  • What is my budget?
  • Will there be a need to create the app for additional platforms beyond iOS (Android and WP7)?

In the end,  the decision to go Native or not will depend on several different factors. So it’s not such a simple answer to determine which direction to move in. Keeping things simple is a good place to start.

Hopefully we’ve shed some light on why a Native app should be part of the decision making process.

Tags: Backup, DropBox
  • drom

    one thing to consider is that when the iPhone launched, they promoted "web apps" as the future, but consumers needed and demanded native apps. It really depends on what is needed, as neither web apps or native apps are better than the other. It's all about using the right tool for the job