There are two main types of app today: Native and Web.
The native app is the one that appears on your screen as an icon and you can access directly from your phone’s screen without needing to use any other application. A web application is one that runs through a browser.
Each can be as simple or complex as necessary, each can be totally customized and personalized with the ability to create almost anything you can think of on the screen.
So what is the difference and which would be better for you?
Both types of application can be powerful, but the necessity that the web app use a browser means it is going to lack some of the potential that being able to use the phone hardware directly brings.
Native apps have the ability to use the hardware of a phone far more effectively. It means that things like accelerometers and cameras can be used by the app, providing additional functionality to the app itself.
Web apps can have limited access, but only as much as the browser in which it operates allows.
Web apps are almost always going to be significantly cheaper to build than native applications as the app can be built once with a dynamic framework that allows it to work across any screen size. It means that it does not matter if you are using it on an iPhone, iPad, Samsung phone, HTC phone or even a desktop computer, it will be the same application with the same programming, but set to dynamically change size based on the screen size it is being displayed on.
A native application needs to be built for every different device and screen size. This not only requires more time to build every app, but also more man power as each platform requires apps to be written in a different language, requiring different skills from programmers.
Beyond the initial build of these apps, the cost of maintenance and updating is significantly cheaper for web applications as it can be changed once then pushed out automatically, changing the app on every device without the user needing to do anything to implement the changes. With a native app, this will require changes to be made across every device’s version of the app and then updated by the user through downloading the update from the app store, or equivalent.
Native apps have the definitive advantage in speed as it can directly harness the hardware from the phone on which it is operating, rather than operating within a browser. This means that data input and performance is almost always faster on a native app than on a similar web based version.
Although web apps don’t necessarily need to be slow, they do currently need to work within the framework of the code they are built on. This is based on the codes available to use within browsers, which then need to be fired, rather than on native apps where the code is instantly fired and optimized to work within that environment.
Compatibility With Your Company
The most important aspect to think about when deciding whether or not to create a web or native app is what you need it for.
People who create native apps often do so not out of a need for one, but because they have the opportunity to look nicer and can seem more convenient. However, if you are a business that does not need a hugely fast app that can leverage considerable amounts of data and hardware power, it is worth asking whether you need a fully native app?
The problem is often compounded by stats taken in isolation that suggest to people that they need a native app. One of these, that 70 per cent of user time on mobile is spent in-app, is a prime example. Sure, people spend most of their times in-app on a phone, but the vast majority of this will be music or entertainment, not browsing through a native app that could easily be created online.
As both app types become more mainstream, we are going to see that one is not better than another, but more that people’s needs will be met differently by each one. For many, the idea of needing to download an app to interact with a company properly will simply be a reason to not buy from them, so both may be needed. For others, the technicality of the site may require a native app in order to get the full scope of what they need.
It may even be that web apps and native apps are used for different parts of a business to make sure that the needs of the user are being met. A prime example being an event, where before buying a ticket a user would only need to have the limited functionality that a web app would bring. Once a ticket has been bought and the more complex details of the event are needed, then a native app may work better.
Having the ability to choose between the two is important and this means knowing what your user wants. Choosing based on looks and gut feeling alone will only get you so far, whilst taking the time to understand what is needed will be the ticket to a successful app integration.