Mobile vs Web
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The Pros and Cons of Building a Mobile App vs. a Web App

Laura MacPherson December 12, 2019

Mobile app or web app? It’s not always a clear decision. If you survey startup founders, you will hear strong opinions on either side. The reason for the disparity is that the answer really depends on your business and the nature of your app. This guide will walk you through the advantages and disadvantages of building a mobile app vs. a web app to help you decide.

What to Consider When Building a Web App vs. a Mobile App

There are five primary things to consider in your decision-making process, based on your current and future business plans. Ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What features will the app include?
  2. How important is speed?
  3. What’s our budget?
  4. What is our monetization strategy?
  5. Do our users need to access the app offline?

Once you’ve collected the answers for each of these questions, your decision may become a bit clearer as you look at the list of advantages and disadvantages listed below.

Pros and Cons of Building a Mobile App

Mobile apps are designed for a specific operating system and leverage the native functionality of the mobile device, giving them unique capabilities. But mobile apps are generally more expensive to develop than web apps, particularly if you need the app to be available on both Android and iOS. Here’s what you need to know.

Mobile App Advantages

  • Speed and Performance — Mobile apps work with a phone’s built-in features, like location services, microphone, and camera, so apps built for the mobile device usually work faster. (However, there are exceptions, depending on the specific functionality of the app.)
  • Ability to Send Push Notifications — Mobile apps allow you to send users reminders, which increases engagement.
  • Improved User Experience Since developers create mobile apps specifically for a particular operating system, they sometimes offer a better user experience.
  • Offline Access Many mobile apps offer offline access not dependent on WiFi once the user downloads the app. (Again, this will depend on the specific functionality of your app.)
  • Promotional Opportunities — Listing your app in the App Store or Google Play extends your reach to a broader audience.

Mobile App Disadvantages

  • Cost of Development — An Android app won’t work on iOS, and vice versa. You’ll need to build two separate mobile apps if you want to serve both platforms. (Note: In limited cases, cross-platform development allows one code base to address both iOS and Android devices, but this technology is still developing and isn’t a guaranteed possibility when looking to ensure a high-quality end product).
  • Cost of Maintenance — Mobile apps require regular maintenance updates for bug fixes, security issues, etc. 
  • App Store Approvals Can Take Time — It’s a tedious process and can take a few weeks to secure approval from the App Store.
  • Download Required — Use of the app requires that a user download and install it on their device. Some users may not want to install another app on their phones.

Pros and Cons of Building a Web App

A web app is a responsive website that users can launch in the mobile device browser or on their desktop computer. Web apps can be designed to look good on any device, including a desktop, tablet, and phone. Since they rely on the browser, web apps work with any operating system, making them a faster and more cost-effective option. However, while a lower cost is an advantage for a web app, they don’t leverage device features causing some functionality limitations. Here’s what you need to know.

Web App Advantages

  • Accessibility — Web apps provide access to users on a wide range of devices, regardless of operating system, through the browser. 
  • Ease of Updates — Developers make changes to a common code base, so updates are simple. And developers can push updates to a server quickly for instant visibility across all devices.
  • Better Discovery on Search Engines — Web apps are displayed in search results (think: Google), so anyone can find them.
  • Cost-Effective Development — It’s less costly to develop web apps than mobile apps due to the smaller amount of development time required. This is largely due to only needing to build one version of a web app to serve all operating systems.
  • Traffic from Website — Visitors to your website can be automatically sent to your web app on mobile devices, with no need to download anything.
  • Faster Speed to Market — Web apps don’t need to be approved by app stores and marketplaces, so it is faster to get them to market.

Web App Disadvantages

  • Limited Mobile Device Feature Accessibility — Web apps offer limited ability to access a mobile device’s native features like camera and location services.
  • Stability — Variations in web browsers can occasionally cause challenges in running the web app without issues. This is why it’s necessary to budget for regular updates.
  • No Offline Availability — Web apps are dependent on the Internet for use, so they are not available when a user does not have WiFi or Cell access.
  • No App Store or Google Play Access — Users won’t find the app on marketplaces, where they are used to finding them. So they may not be aware of availability.

Should You Build a Mobile App or a Web App?

Look back at the answers you provided to the five primary questions. These answers will provide insights into which direction you should choose.

  • If your app will include features that require access to the mobile device’s native functionality, a mobile app is probably the best option for you.
  • When speed is important, and if your app’s features are ones that could work faster on a native mobile app, then a mobile app may be the best option.
  • If you have a tight budget, you may want to launch as a web app.
  • When your monetization strategy relies on downloads, or if you want to let a third party handle billing, a mobile app may be the best choice for you.
  • If your users need to access the app offline, a mobile app is likely the best option.

Want to learn how we help you hone your app idea (while discussing these considerations!) through our SolutionLab workshop? Get in touch, and we’ll schedule a call.

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