Web or native app: Which one should you choose as a developer?

Native apps: Platform specific

Native apps are developed for a specific mobile platform and are either directly installed on a mobile device (smartphones or tablets) or are downloaded and installed by users from online app stores such as the App Store (for iOS apps) or Google Play (for Android apps) or App World (for BlackBerry apps).

These apps run on the operating system of various mobile devices, and are written using the programming language and frameworks (specific to a mobile OS); they can also store and retrieve data on the device and use the hardware features of the same. But most importantly, what distinguishes a Native app from a web app is that these apps are not portable to other mobile platforms.

Pros of native apps

  • Are optimised for the mobile device hardware
  • Have access to the device APIs
  • Published through app stores, which increases visibility of these apps
  • Installed locally and are more secure (users trust such apps more)
  • Seamless integration with other Native applications
  • Better offline functionality/application performance
  • Applications automatically update by sending notifications to the user
  • Provide faster performance and have a more responsive and attractive UI

Cons of native apps

  • Porting a native app to other mobile platforms takes up more resources, development and testing time  
  • Developing the same app for another platform from scratch increases production costs
  • Updating Native apps is a hassle because there is always the fear of new bugs when a new update of such apps is submitted on online app stores
  • Submitting Native apps on various app stores for approval can take up a lot of time
  • Users first need to install the app on their mobile devices and only then they can use it

Web app: Platform agnostic

Web apps are basically apps that are accessed through a mobile web browser on various devices. Users need not download and install such apps on their device in order to use them. These apps are typically device and platform agnostic i.e. they are not restricted to a particular mobile device or mobile operating system.

 Pros of Web apps

  • Write once, run anywhere nature of web apps lowers the overall cost of development
  • Eliminate the need to download and install the app; allow immediate, real-time use
  • No hassle of submitting the app for approval on various online app stores
  • Easy to update and maintain
  • Can be accessed from anywhere using the internet
  • Cross-platform compatibility

 Cons

  • Need an internet connection to function
  • Not that popular with the end-users
  • Can’t access all of the device hardware features and functionalities
  • Security issues as the remote server could be compromised leaking private information
  • Limited client-side storage
  • Not as responsive as compared to Native apps
  • User-experience is not better than Native apps

These are some common advantages and disadvantages of Native and Web apps. But it still doesn’t answer the question as to which one should you choose. So, let’s compare these two to find out which one of these will best suit your requirements!

 

 

 

Native Apps

 

Web Apps

 


Development

 

Native apps are developed using Native APIs, SDKs and toolkits, common UI elements, frameworks etc. of specific mobile platforms.

 

There are no SDKs, toolkits, or frameworks to develop web apps.

 

 

 

Programming Languages

 

All native apps are written in different programming languages, using programming language native to different platforms. For e.g. Objective-C for iOS,  Java for Android, and Visual C++ for Windows OS

 

Most mobile based web apps are written using HTML 5, CSS3, JavaScript and various other server-side scripting languages such as PHP/LAMP.

  

Access to native features

 

Native apps have full access to various native features, information and hardware of a mobile device such as a camera, gyroscope, accelerometer etc.

 

Web apps can access a limited number of a device’s features, information and hardware like – orientation, geo-location, media components etc.

 

Versions

 

Different users might use different versions of the same app

 

All users use the same version of a mobile web app

 

Updates

 

Users need to manually download and install app updates

 

All updates to a web app is made to the web server automatically with no role of the user (think of a new feature added to a web based game)

 

Visibility

 

Native apps are standalone apps that are displayed in various app stores under different app categories. These stores increase the visibility of the app.

 

There are no app stores or marketplace as such for mobile based web apps. So it is difficult for users to find the app. This limits the app’s visibility.

 

 

Monetisation of apps

 

Developers can develop Native apps, submit them on online app stores and charge a download (and upgrade) price of the app

 

Web apps are generally free and can monetize through on-site advertisement and through subscription fees. 

 

Making the choice between native and Web apps more easy: three questions to ask yourself

The comparison list must have given you a fair idea about Web based apps and Native apps for mobile platforms. Go through it once again and then, ask yourself some specific questions, which will eventually help you to choose the correct app type for developing your app. I have listed three such questions here namely:

What is the budget you have for developing the app?

Native apps are more expensive to build as compared to web apps. This is because as a developer, you need to master various technologies that are required to develop an app for a specific platform. On top of that, if you need to port that app to a different platform; you also need to have expertise in the tools and technologies required on that platform in order to modify your app’s features and functionalities to suit the other platform.    

On the other hand, if you develop a web app, you need to concentrate mainly on the latest web tools and technologies along with basic knowledge about various mobile platforms and functionalities of various mobile devices. This helps to reduce the overall time and effort and so, the budget for developing such apps naturally decreases.

Does your app need to use any specific features and functionalities of a mobile device?

If you are developing an app, which needs to use some specific hardware features of a mobile device such as – Camera, Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Proximity Sensor etc. then it is better to go for a Native app. This is because a Native app has access to specific features and functionalities and can be developed using Native APIs of mobile devices.

But if you go for a Web app, you will have difficulty in integrating your app with all the device specific features. There are chances that you might not be able to integrate certain features with your app at all! So, instead of taking a risk as big as this and wasting your time, settle for a Native app.

Are you targeting a specific or all kinds of mobile device?

If you are looking forward to developing your app for a specific mobile device or platform, then it is obvious that you must develop a Native app. But if your target is to make your app reach a large number of mobile devices, then going for a web app would be a better option for you.

Wrapping it up

These are the three most important questions, not necessarily in any particular order, which you must ask yourself before choosing a web or a Native app and starting the development process for the same. Apart from these, there are other questions that need to be answered such as – does your app need to access the internet often, what are the programming languages and technologies you are already familiar with, who will your app serve, how important is the speed and performance of your app, how will you monetize the app effectively etc. Think about these questions and ask yourself to get answers, which will help you arrive at the best conclusion.

Albert Vang is a developer with PLAVEB and has worked on a number of Entriprise Mobile Apps Development and Enterprise based Mobile Website design projects. He is a gadget aficionado and never leaves home without his iPad. He also likes to explore the creative side of his personality by sharing his views through write-ups on various guest blogging websites.

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