Native Apps vs. Web Apps

Which is a better choice for developers?

Developing a mobile app is an involved process that starts with a mobile app idea. Next comes planning, designing, developing, testing, and deploying the app to mobile devices. Early on, you'll decide whether to develop a local app or a web app. We looked at the pros and cons of both to help you decide which is the best choice for developers.

Native Apps vs. Web apps

Overall Findings

Native Apps
  • Work with a specific mobile device.

  • The app is downloaded to a mobile device.

  • Functionality is integrated with the device features.

  • Often perform faster than web apps.

  • The app store approval process guarantees security and compatibility.

  • SDKs and other tools used by developers provide ease of development.

  • Can be more expensive to create and maintain.

  • The app store approval process can be daunting.

Web Apps
  • The app is internet-enabled.

  • Users access the app from the mobile device's web browser.

  • Easy to maintain due to a common code base across multiple mobile platforms.

  • Can be made compatible with any older mobile device.

  • Released at the developer's discretion since there's no app store approval process.

  • Limited in what device features it can access.

  • Safety and security aren't guaranteed.

  • More opportunities to monetize.

Local apps and web apps are useful tools for users and worthwhile endeavors for developers. A local app works with a device's built-in features and is downloaded from an app marketplace. Web apps are accessed from the internet.

From a user perspective, local and web apps can look and work much the same. A developer may focus on local apps if they want to create a user-centric tool. They may wish to focus on creating a web app if their app's functionality is application-specific. Many developers create both local and web apps to widen the reach of their products and offer the best user experience.

An example of a local app is the Camera+ 2 app for Apple iOS devices.

Local Apps and Web Apps: Basic Differences

Local Apps
  • Developed for one particular mobile device.

  • Installed directly on the device.

  • Downloaded from an app store or marketplace or come pre-installed on the device.

  • Use the device's built-in features.

Web Apps
  • Internet-enabled apps.

  • Accessible from a mobile device's web browser.

  • Don't need to be downloaded.

  • Limited in what built-in features can be used.

Local apps and web apps have some basic structural and developmental differences.

A local app is developed for a particular mobile device. It's installed directly on the device. A local app is compatible with a device's hardware and built-in features, such as an accelerometer, camera, and more. This way, a developer can incorporate these features into an app. Users download these apps from an app store or online marketplaces such as the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

A web app is an internet-enabled app that is accessible from the mobile device's web browser. Users don't have to download a web app to their mobile device. Web apps access a limited amount of a device's built-in features.

User Perspective: Both Have Strengths and Drawbacks

Local Apps
  • Work with a device's built-in features.

  • Perform faster on the device.

  • Easier to work with.

  • Users don't have to worry about security.

  • Users don't have to worry about device compatibility.

  • Due to various versions, users may have trouble communicating with other users of the app.

Web Apps
  • Users don't see any interface differences.

  • Users don't have to go to an app store to download.

  • Users don't have to worry if the app needs an update.

  • Not as much support across mobile browsers.

  • Users may be more worried about security since there's no standardized quality control.

Developers want users to like their apps, and hope users find their apps helpful and easy to use. For the most part, both local apps and web apps are easy for users to access and use. Still, each has its pros and cons as far as what a user may prefer.

Local apps are easy to download and use. There's no need to be concerned about device compatibility or security. The app store or marketplace vets these apps. Local apps are faster and more efficient. A local app works in tandem with the mobile device for which it was developed. Local apps require updating, however, so users must make sure they have the latest version of an app. If users play a game with another user with a different app version, there can be some communication issues.

For users, web apps don't always appear to be different from local apps as far as interface and operation. Since web apps are accessed in a browser, users don't need to find the app and download it onto their mobile device. There's no need to worry if the app needs an update since the latest version is always accessible. On the downside, users may be wary of security issues since web apps aren't subject to standardized quality control.

Developer's Perspective: Pros and Cons for Each

Local Apps
  • Mobile platforms have unique development processes.

  • Different programming languages are needed for various platforms.

  • More expensive to develop.

  • Monetization is tricky, but app stores handle payments.

  • Getting approved can be difficult.

Web Apps
  • Various mobile devices and browsers present unique challenges.

  • Don't need approval from an app marketplace.

  • No standardized SDKs or easy tools.

  • Easier to monetize apps with ads, memberships, and more.

The app development process for local apps and web apps is different. Some aspects of each are easier for developers, but each also has its drawbacks.

Local Apps

Local apps are generally more expensive to develop. Developers must pay attention to the mobile platforms they work with because each platform has a unique development process. Mobile platforms use various programming languages. For example, iOS uses Objective-C, Android uses Java, and Windows Mobile uses C++. On the plus side, each mobile platform has a software development kit (SDK), development tools, and other user interface elements. This makes it possible for developers to create local apps with relative ease.

App monetization with local apps can be tricky. Mobile device manufacturers may lay restrictions on integrating services with mobile ad platforms and networks. Still, once an app is set up, the app store takes care of revenue and commissions.

Because app stores vet these apps so thoroughly, the process of getting an app approved on an app store can be long and tedious for the developer. Sometimes apps are rejected, and the developer has to make extensive changes.

Web Apps

Unlike locally-running apps, developers don't have to submit web apps to an app store for approval. Since web apps don't need to be approved by an app marketplace, web apps can be released at any time, and in any form the developer prefers.

Web app developers have to deal with the unique features and problems that come with various mobile devices and browsers. Web app developers use languages such as JavaScript, HTML 5, CSS3, or other web application frameworks. There are no standardized SDKs for web developers. There are, however, several tools and frameworks to help web app developers deploy apps to multiple mobile platforms and browsers.

It's easy to monetize web apps through advertisements, membership fees, and other promotions. However, you need to set up a payment system. Web apps are easier to maintain because these apps have a common code base across multiple mobile platforms. However, maintaining apps across multiple platforms presents challenges.

While you don't have to jump through hoops to get an app approved, there's no regulatory authority that controls the quality standards of these apps. Without a specific marketplace or store, it's harder to make an app visible to potential users.

Final Verdict

When deciding between developing locally-running apps or web apps, consider how important app speed and performance are to you, if you want the app to include device-specific features, and if you prefer the app to be internet-enabled. Your development budget is a factor, as is how you want to monetize the app in the future and what mobile platforms you want to support.

Many developers opt to work with both types of apps to widen the reach of their products and offer the best possible user experience.

  • What are progressive web apps?

    Progressive web apps are simply web apps and not native apps. Apps that identify themselves as progressive are usually more modern and built to work across platforms, however.

  • How do web apps work?

    Simply by using a website like Netflix is using a web app. Much like opening a native app on your computer allows you to use that app, going to a website will allow you to use a web app.

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