Software

Web Applications vs. Mobile Applications

5 minutes
Thinklogic
April 28, 2021

Which Is Better?

There’s an app for everything these days. To most people, an app is an app, and as long as it works, they don’t give it much thought. If you’re part of a company attempting to develop and launch an app, the situation is more complex. 

As a technology leader or developer, you have to navigate the complex world of app types, development platforms, and use cases. You may know your app should be compatible with mobile devices, but do you need a mobile app or a web app that can run on mobile devices? What’s the difference?

We’re here to help you find the answers to questions like these. In this post, we’ll explain the differences between mobile and web applications, explore the pros and cons, and discuss use cases for both types of apps so you can choose the right strategy for your needs.

What’s the Difference Between Mobile and Web Applications?

Web apps and mobile apps may look similar on the surface, but that’s where the similarities end. From how they’re built to how they run and the functionality they provide, web apps and mobile apps are very different. 

Web Apps

Web applications are essentially websites that have been built to look and function like native mobile applications. 

Unlike standard websites meant mostly to inform, web apps are built to be interactive and responsive to user input. Web apps don’t have to be downloaded on your device. Instead, you access them using an internet browser, and they’re displayed in a format compatible with your device. You must have an internet connection to access web apps, and their speed and performance depend on the quality of your connection.

Some of the most popular web apps include productivity apps like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 and personal finance applications like Tiller Money.

Web apps are faster and cheaper to build than mobile apps. The tradeoff is that they tend to have simpler features and less complex functionality. Most web app developers use JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5 for app development.  There’s no standard software kit or platform for web app development, but there are several popular development frameworks such as AngularJS, ASP.NET, Ruby on Rails, and Symfony to choose from.

Mobile Apps 

In contrast, mobile applications are designed and built to run on specific mobile device platforms. To access a mobile app, you must first download it from an app store such as Apple or Google Play and install it on your device. 

Because mobile apps run directly on your phone, they are faster and can make use of your phone’s GPS, camera, microphone, and other features to give you a more personalized user experience. In many cases, they can continue to function offline.

Instagram, Minted, Waze, and Candy Crush are all well-known mobile apps.

Mobile apps are designed for specific platforms. An app designed for iOS to run on Apple devices won’t work for phones running Android and vice versa. Each platform requires specific tools and Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), so you have to build multiple versions of your app to fit different platforms. Major app stores like Apple and Google require you to use their software development kits (SDKs) and to design your app to meet stringent security standards. This drives up development costs and increases the time it takes to build and launch your app. 

A Quick Illustration: Airbnb Mobile vs. Web App

Let’s take a quick look at the popular travel app Airbnb to illustrate the differences between mobile and web apps. The interfaces for the mobile and web apps look similar, but there are big differences in access and functionality. 

The web app can be accessed from any device, including a desktop computer and allows you to browse and book places to stay, check messages, and manage trip details as long as you have an internet connection. 

To get the mobile app, you have to visit an app store and download the version of the app that works on your device. Once you download the app, you can do everything you can do on the web app, plus access additional features like sharing trips using your phone’s messaging system. If you find yourself without an internet connection, the mobile app allows you to access messages and other trip details offline.

Mobile Apps vs. Web Apps: The Pros and Cons 


Now that we’ve covered the basic differences between web apps and mobile apps, let’s take a look at each type of app’s pros and cons. 

Native Mobile Apps

Native mobile apps offer speed, security, and powerful functionality, but it comes at the price of high development costs and a tougher path to monetization. Here’s the full list of mobile app pros and cons:

Pros

  • Faster speed, flexible interface, and more complex, personalized features made possible by downloading the app on your device
  • Offline functionality, although this is temporary and limited to certain features
  • Top-notch security due to high app store approval standards
  • Availability of standard development tools simplifies development

Cons 

  • Cost more and take longer to develop than web apps
  • Multiple versions required to operate on different platforms
  • Difficult app store approval and update processes require significant time and expense
  • Harder to monetize due to users’ reluctance to download too many new apps

Web Apps 

Web apps require less time and resources for development and maintenance. It’s also often easier to get people to try a new web app because they don’t have to download it. On the flip side, because web apps can’t access your device’s features, they can’t offer the complex functionality as mobile apps. Here’s the rest of the list: 

Pros 

  • Requires less time and money to build, maintain, and update vs mobile apps
  • No downloads required since users can access the app through a browser
  • Single version works across multiple platforms and devices
  • Easier to market and monetize than mobile apps

Cons

  • Won’t work without an internet connection
  • Slower speeds and fewer features than mobile apps
  • Security and quality assurance is up to you since there are no app stores to provide and enforce requirements

Mobile Apps vs. Web Apps: Use Cases & Examples

When choosing between mobile apps and web apps, there’s no clear right or wrong answer. Both are good options, and the best choice for you depends on several factors, including your target audience, performance needs, and feature requirements. In this section, we’ll discuss how you know if the app you want to build is a better mobile or web app use case. 

Mobile App Use Cases

Think about your favorite mobile apps. They may be fitness apps, financial apps, social media apps, or games, but they all have things in common that make them perfect mobile app use cases. You may have a strong mobile app use case if your app:

  • Requires the use of phone features such as camera, GPS, integrated messaging, or social media integration
  • Must be fast and/or able to function (temporarily) without an internet connection
  • Targets people who use mobile apps frequently
  • Relies heavily on a personalized user experience
  • Fills a need or provides a service not available from existing mobile apps
  • Sends frequent notifications to users
  • Has a clear path to profitability to cover higher development and maintenance costs
  • Gets daily use and integrates easily into users’ lives

Web App Use Cases

There’s a reason apps like Google Workspace and Office 365 are primarily web apps. The features and goals of these apps and others like them are better suited for a web app vs a mobile app. A web app may be the best choice for you if your app:

  • Needs to function across a variety of platforms and devices
  • Has an interface or features that work better with a web layout 
  • Doesn’t need to function offline
  • Doesn’t require access to device features or integration with mobile apps
  • Targets people who don’t use mobile apps or tasks that don’t work well on mobile devices
  • Requires significant time and concentration from users
  • Features basic interactivity and personalization

We’re Here to Help 

We’ve covered enough web app vs. mobile app basics to get you headed in the right direction, but you don’t have to figure out the rest on your own.  We’re here to help.

Our team of app development experts can answer all your mobile vs. web app questions and work with you to develop a custom app that’s just right for you.

Contact us today to get started with a consultation.




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