One of the things you’ll need to decide early on in your mobile application development process is how you’ll build and deploy your app. There are two main directions you can go: native app or mobile web app. In this article, we’ll talk about the differences between the two so you can make an informed decision.
What is a Native App? A native app is an app for a certain mobile device (smartphone, tablet, etc.) They’re installed directly onto the device. Users typically acquire these apps through an online store
What is a Mobile Web App? When we talk about mobile web apps in this article, we’re referring to Internet-enabled apps that have specific functionality for mobile devices. They’re accessed through the mobile device’s web browser ( i.e. on the iPhone, this is Safari by default) and they don’t need to be downloaded and installed on the device.
Let’s do a quick run down and evaluate native apps versus mobile web apps under these factors:
Some companies choose to develop both a native app and a mobile web app. In terms of the general look-and-feel, there’s little difference between the two,
making for a consistent user experience.
Each mobile application development platform (e.g. iOS, Android) requires its own development processEach mobile application development platform has its own native programming language: Java (Android), Objective-C (iOS), and Visual C++ (Windows Mobile)
Can interface with the device’s native features, information and hardware (camera, accelerometer, etc.)
Mobile web apps can access a limited amount of the device’s native features and information (orientation, geolocation, media, etc.)
Mobile-specific ad platforms such as AdMob (though there can be restrictions set by the mobile device’s manufacturer). Developers have the ability to charge a download price and app stores will typically handle the payment process
Mobile web apps can monetize through site advertisement and subscription fees. Charging users to use the mobile web app requires you to set up your own paywall or subscription-based system
Method of delivery
Charging users to use the mobile web app requires you to set up your own paywall or subscription-based system.Installed and runs as a standalone application (no web browser needed). Users must manually download and install app updates.
Accessed through a mobile device’s web browser. No need to install new software. Updates are made to the web server without user intervention.
Versioning of the app
Some users may choose to ignore an update, resulting in different users running different versions of the app
All users are on the same version
Typically perform faster than mobile web apps. App stores and marketplaces help users find native apps.App store approval processes can help assure users of the quality and safety of the app.Tools, support and standard development best practices provided by device manufacturers can help speed up development
Have a common code base across all platforms. Users don’t have to go to a store or marketplace, download the app and install the app.Can be released in any form and any time as there isn’t an app store that has to approve the app.
Are typically more expensive to develop, especially if you’re supporting multiple mobile devices. Supporting multiple platforms requires maintaining multiple code bases and can result in higher costs in development, maintenance, pushing out updates, etc. Users can be on different versions and can make your app harder to maintain and provide support for. App store approval processes can delay the launch of the app or prevent the release of the app.
Mobile web apps can’t access all of the device’s features (yet). Supporting multiple mobile web browsers can result in higher costs in development and maintenance, etc. Users can be on different mobile browsers and can make your app harder to maintain and provide support for. For users, it may be harder to find a mobile web app because of the lack of a centralized app store
Whether you decide to build a native app or a mobile web app depends on many factors: business objectives, target audience, technical requirements and so on. You don’t necessarily have to choose between building a native app or a mobile web app. Companies like Facebook maintain both native apps and a mobile web app. However, for many of us, budget and resource constraints will require us to decide if we need to build a native app or a mobile web app (or, at least, will require us to prioritize which one to develop first).
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