Most businesses know the necessity of having a mobile presence for their company. But what they might not understand is, “just what is the difference between a native mobile application and a mobile web app and when do I choose one over the other?” At first-glance, it may be hard to distinguish a mobile web app / website from a native app because they can look a lot alike depending on which features you pick and choose. Deciding whether to choose a mobile-friendly web app vs a native mobile application depends on a variety of factors like: understanding who your target audience is, determining your budget, defining your business purpose, and identifying which features are most important to you. Learn these key differences between the two, and you’ll know which will serve your needs the best.
Accessibility – A mobile web app is made up of web pages which have been specially formatted to look good on handheld devices, like smartphones and tablets. This is accessed via the browser on the mobile device and requires mobile devices to have Internet connection. In addition, mobile websites are designed to take advantage of special mobile-specific features like location-based mapping and click-to-call features. Conversely, mobile apps which are also formatted for handheld devises and tablets must be downloaded from an app store and installed on your mobile device. A mobile app can work with or without the Internet depending on the features of the app.
Know Your Audience – How do you want to serve your target market? Make sure you understand your customers’ needs so you address them correctly. If you are a restaurant owner, your customer probably wants to be able to find you while traveling on the road, locate the nearest restaurant if you are a chain, make a reservation, view a menu, and see if there are any available coupons. On the flip side, if you want to develop a standalone app that works without the Internet or an interactive game, then an app is your best bet. Studies have shown Internet users prefer mobile browsers for shopping, searching and entertainment, whereas they prefer mobile apps for managing data, playing games, and using productive apps.
New Customer or Loyal Consumer – This actually plays a big factor in determining whether you want an app or a mobile-friendly website. If you have a new customer who wants to learn about your company, see your offerings, find directions, or place a call from their phone to your retail store or business, chances are they are not going to want to download an app on their phone to do this. Instead, they would usually prefer to access a mobile-friendly website to learn more or contact you. Loyal customers on the other hand (think local restaurant or coffee joint where your customer wants to place orders weekly or even daily while on the go) would find an app on their phone convenient and time-saving and wouldn’t hesitate to download it onto their mobile device because it’s useful to them.
Budget – It always comes down to dollars and how to get your best return on your investment. Basically, feature for feature, a mobile-friendly web application is usually the least expensive choice. That’s because typically a mobile web application takes less time to develop, maintain, and release; and usually the mobile web app is a stripped down version of an existing web application so much of the content is already in place.
So which is better, a native mobile app or a mobile web app? The best answer really depends on your end goals. If you want to develop an interactive game or need special features that only an app can address, then your choice will be to go with mobile application development. If you want to reach the biggest audience with mobile-friendly content or create a stream-lined version of your existing website, then a mobile web app / website is the logical choice. In lots of cases, you may decide that you need both, a mobile website to reach a large audience without having a ‘call to action’ requirement from your customers and a mobile app to handle a specially complex or value added component that can only be addressed with a customized mobile application. Generally speaking though, a mobile website should be considered your first step in developing a mobile presence, whereas an app is useful for developing an application for a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished via a web browser.