Web App vs Native App
Modern software is divided into two categories - a 'web app', which is accessed via a website, and a 'native app', which is installed locally. Web apps are accessed via a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, etc). Native apps sometimes need an internet connection to access a server.
A fun topic for debate is 'Web App vs Native App', and the final answer (as always) is probably "the right solution for each situation".
My belief is that web apps are superior to native apps, for several reasons:
- Appearance. With Responsive Design, a website looks just as good as a native app.
- Capabilities. With HTML5, a website has the same capabilities as a native app, such as GPS location-based services and offline databases.
- Simplicity. Building a website means that the same codebase is used for all systems. This minimizes development time, testing, bugs, maintainability, and upgrade complexity.
- Audience Capture and Tracking. If the audience initially interacts with a business via a website, then it would be better to maintain the audience's' attention within the website, as opposed to sending the audience to an external app. User tracking can also be monitored and reported on within a single entity.
- Search Indexing. Google is designed for indexing and searching website content, as well as some services such as Facebook and Twitter. Google Search won’t include content that is locally stored in apps.
- Standardization. It is much easier to post content to existing universal distribution channels such as websites, Facebook, or Twitter, instead of convincing people to download and install a new app.
- Historical Referencing. Reviewing historical content is easy in a mainstream service such as Facebook or Twitter.
- Smaller Footprint. A website is quick and easy for any user to visit, whereas native apps require a bigger commitment from users, including download, installation, software permissions, etc. A quick website link will be easier to accept and have less of a footprint.
A functional website is an "app" with less complexity, wider usability, and fewer headaches.
Looking ahead to the future of consumer devices, the website seems to be the better option.
- Websites minimize the local storage footprint for a user. New computers, especially laptops and tablets, are being made with smaller hard drives. Chromebooks often have only an incredibly small Flash drive used to store the OS. Local storage is being replaced by Cloud storage, so users will have less room to install things like Apps locally.
- Website = Cloud, and everyone is excited about the Cloud.
- Websites allow for better user tracking. Organizations can learn much more about their users by tracking them in a website (page views, click thrus, etc.), and everyone wants to know more about their users, especially as the value of that information becomes more apparent.
- Apps are made for the devices of today. Websites automatically work with any new devices, since html is designed to be universal, so websites are compatible with the devices of tomorrow.
Common App Headaches
Organizations trying to build an 'app' often face these headaches:
- Building different versions of the app to support all devices and OS versions.
- Maintaining and upgrading different versions of the app codebases.
- Deploying to multiple app stores.
- Ensuring users are using the latest app version.
- Finding a developer.
- Software that claims to let one codebase work for all app platforms is unreliable and inconsistent in actual results.
- Users find a way to 'steal' your app/modify the functionality locally.
When is it right to build an app?
In some areas, an app will have better functionality than a website.
- In an app, a user can grant or revoke user permissions more easily than in a website. If a website asks for a user's geolocation, and the user declines, then the user will need to clear cookies before the website will ask again. Overall, the experience of granting elevated permissions to enable functionality like geolocation, extra offline storage, etc is better in an app.
- Apps are more appropriate if the software is very intensive for device memory and CPU usage, such as a game.
- Push notifications are normally superior in an app. In a web interface, this could be better handled through email or other existing social networks.
Websites and Apps both have potential security issues, so security is not superior in either model. Proper development is key to a secure software system, whether in a website or an app.
10/12/2015 - Websites have advantages for search engine optimization:
5/31/2016 - Nearly 1 in 4 people abandon mobile apps after only one use
9/10/2016 - How Google And Others Are Plotting The Revenge Of The Web App
11/7/2016 - Native Apps are Doomed
5/28/2017 - Is 2017 the beginning of the end for the app economy?
1/3/2019 - Why Founders Should Start With a Website, Not a Mobile App