In our day and age, if you run a business, sooner or later you are bound to start contemplating improving your outreach by launching an app. The question nowadays seems to be not “Do I need an app?” but “What kind of an app do I need?” Setting aside the details, the most important thing you should decide right at the outset is whether it is going to be a native/mobile or a web app. There are strong-feeling proponents of both approaches, but there is hardly a definite answer that would fit any situation. So let’s examine the issue and see whether web or native apps can be right for your case.
What’s The Difference?
In short, a native or mobile app is a standalone piece of software developed from scratch for a particular operating system. It is installed directly to a mobile device and should remain there as long as the user wishes to go on using it.
A web app is available via the developer’s website by means of a web browser (in most cases, any browser will do), doesn’t need to be downloaded and isn’t tailored for any specific OS or device type.
Both have their strong and weak points.
Of course, the most obvious difference between the two is their relationship with the Internet connection. Web apps require Internet connection to work properly, and if a user finds himself off the grid, he is usually out of luck. In some cases a certain degree of functionality can be retained by means of a web cache, but it requires additional tweaking on the user’s side (which is often beyond the scope of many users, and unlikely to be done until they first lose connection) and isn’t guaranteed to work anyway. Mobile apps don’t have such limitations – although, needless to say, you still need a connection to download them.
Each mobile app is developed from scratch for a specific operating system, which means that if you want to cover both Android and iOS crowds, you will have to pay for the development twice. Development for different platforms requires different sets of skills and, of course, takes a lot more time. Some higher-class app developers may deal with the development for different platforms, but quite often you will have to hire separate teams to work on different variants of the app. Each version of the app needs to be supported independently as well – which is further aggravated by the fact that a certain share of users will go on using the older versions.
Web apps are much cheaper and more convenient in this respect. They don’t depend on the platform, have to be developed only once and need nothing but an Internet connection and browser to work. In addition to that, you don’t have to worry about maintaining and supporting multiple versions of an app simultaneously – there is only one version, one size fits all, and users don’t have an opportunity to go on using older ones.
A native app is distributed via an app store – Google Play for Android, Apple AppStore for iOS. This means that before clients get to use it, you have to submit it to the store, and to do so, you have to adhere to certain rules, regulations and standards imposed by it. You won’t have complete freedom in what kind of content you may distribute and even what kind of design decisions you make. You may have to rework your app in compliance with these requirements before it is accepted, and it may be pulled out of the store without warning in case you violate (or appear to be violating) any rules. Submission and evaluation of an app, as well as of its subsequent versions, take additional time.
In case of a web app, you are completely independent – you simply upload it to your website and don’t have to ask anybody’s permission. However, it cuts both ways – being in an app store greatly helps with an app’s promotion. In other words, users are more likely to find it if it is located in a place they usually get their apps. In addition to that, app stores are generally associated with a certain standard of quality – something you won’t have if you distribute your app independently.
The fact that mobile apps are developed with specific operating systems and sometimes devices in mind comes in very handy here, because they are capable of fully utilizing all the possibilities of the devices they “live” on – something that web apps are incapable of. Native apps usually work faster and smoother – thanks in no small part to being independent from bandwidth.
Mobile Internet often leaves much to be desired, and when the app’s functioning is fully dependent on its speed, lags can get truly infuriating, putting many people off web apps completely. In addition, the fact that web apps work indiscriminately on all devices and platforms sometimes works against them – due to lack of testing on particular systems, unexpected problems are more than possible.
As you may see, there are strong arguments in favor of both approaches. A lot seems to suggest that web apps may be a better choice for smaller businesses – they are cheaper and faster to develop and maintain, cover a larger audience, and allow you to be independent.
However, it is all very situational. Web apps’ record tends to be rather sketchy when it comes to things most users value above everything else: namely, stability and convenience. With a mobile app, you know where you are – once you’ve downloaded it once, it’s yours to use. A web app may stop working due to the developer’s site being down, poor Internet connection, some platform-related bug – something no user will be happy to discover, especially when they need to have the app working.
In the long run, both approaches have their uses – see for yourself which up- and downsides outweigh each other in your situation.
Images: ” App Development Concept. App Development Drawn on Dark Wall. App Development in Multicolor. App Development Concept. Modern Illustration in Doodle Design of App Development. / Shutterstock.com“
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