Native Mobile Apps Vs Web Apps

Trends, fashions and the latest ‘must-haves’ are common place on the internet. First off, everyone wanted a website, then along came the all-singing all-dancing flash based website. Next they needed Facebook, podcasts, blogs… The current ‘must-have’ is the native mobile app.

At Hughes & Co we have clients come to us wanting to develop a native mobile app but it is possible that what they’re really looking for is a web app and not a mobile app at all.

In this article we explain the differences between the two, and most importantly which is the right solution for your business?

What is a native mobile app?

A mobile application, most commonly referred to as an app, is a type of application software designed to run on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet computer.

The benefits of using a native mobile app

  1. They are highly graphical: Built using the device’s native language, and installed on the device itself, native apps offer the best graphics and animations. If a business needs a highly graphical application, such as a game, native apps are the best option.
  2. App store distribution: Native apps are distributed through their platform’s native app store or marketplace. While not often a requirement for business apps, app store distribution is essential for companies that require wide consumer distribution, or need to sell their apps.
  3. Device integration: Native apps provide full access to the device’s hardware, such as its GPS sensor, contact list, camera, microphone, gyroscope, and accelerometer. These capabilities are essential for apps that require device data, like geographical location or device position/movement.

The problems with native mobile apps

  1. Development cost: One of the biggest problems associated with mobile apps is cost. Unlike web based programming languages there is a high barrier of entry for developers. This means that hiring someone to build your app is going to be expensive compared to the responsive website or web app counterpart. Many companies will get around this by reusing a templated app and just applying your branding, this lowers the cost but also then makes your app very generic and means you will have the same functionality as many others out there.
  2. No portability: The cost of developing an app rises exponentially when developing cross-platform native applications. Unlike a HTML 5, CSS, PHP web based solution you cannot build once and ensure it will work on all devices. You will need a separate app built for each of the most popular devices. For example to cover the most popular devices today you would need three apps, one for iPhone/iPad, one for Windows and one for Android. If you don’t do this then you risk ostracising your customers based on their mobile device choice. You may also be hit with some surprise costs when you find out that due to the latest iPhone/Windows/Android device update your mobile app no longer works and you are forced to update it!
  3. Development time: As you can imagine, developing an app across three different platforms is not only costly but time consuming. It is estimated that developing an app requires 6 months development time. On top of this the process of getting the app approved at the app store can prove to be long and tedious for the developer and need not always result in success. For instance, if the app store rejects a company’s app from their app store, if the app doesn’t meet their terms of service, or if another company claims copyright over an element in the app, the app can be removed from the app store.
  4. A lack of opportunity to promote your app: When smart phone app stores first launched there was a huge rush to fulfil demand for native mobile apps. In the early days there was a lot of opportunity, however those days are long gone. With well over 1 million apps in both the iTunes and Android app stores and over 600,000 in the Windows app store supply has more than exceeded demand. The situation worsens when you consider this oversaturation combined with the difficulty of getting your app found. Most app stores lack any sort of sophisticated search functionality. Of course there are ways to improve your app market place ranking but the likelihood is that it will rarely be seen. If someone does find and install your app this doesn’t guarantee they will keep it. Due to limited storage on mobile devices people are ruthless when it comes to deleting apps. So unless they are using it on a regular basis your app may have a very short stay on their device.

What is a Web App?

Web apps are not real applications; they are really websites that, in many ways, look and feel like native applications. Users access them as they would access any web page: they navigate to a special URL and are then given the option of “installing” them on their home screen by creating a bookmark to that page.

The benefits of web apps

  1. Cross-Platform: Responsive websites and web based apps are a build once solution, there are no different versions for different devices, the one build will run across all devices. If your device has an internet browser then you are good to go! You can even pin them to your home screen just like a mobile app! Being responsive means that it will adapt and display your content in the most appropriate way for the device that it is currently showing on from a phone all the way to a smart TV.
  2. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): Another benefit of having a responsive website or web based app is SEO. Having your content available online is great for search engine optimization and will allow you to work on SEO rankings and rise up through Google’s search listings compared to being lost in a mobile app store.
  3. Inexpensive Development: As well as saving money by developing a cross-platform solution maintenance costs are also far lower compared to a native mobile app, any updates or changes that need to be made can be made to one central place rather than multiple mobile apps (for each device). This goes for both updates to the functionality and content.
  4. Future Proof: Finally, the web eliminates the problems associated with mobile platform instability. In a world of fragmented mobile devices and operating systems, the web is the only constant. It’s shared by all mobile platforms and operating systems, it’s not controlled by another company, and it won’t disappear in a few years. When a business builds mobile web apps, they choose a platform that will last.


If you’ve been toying with the idea that what your company really needs is a mobile app but you just haven’t got the time or the money to develop one… then get in touch with us at Hughes & Co and just maybe we can get working on a mobile web app that offers the perfect solution at an attractive price.