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.
- What features will the app include?
- How important is speed?
- What’s our budget?
- Who is our audience?
- 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.
Mobile App vs Web App
Before jumping into the pros and cons, a quick definition of each can help simplify when to use a mobile app or when a web app is the more appropriate choice.
A mobile app is an application designed specifically for a mobile device, such as a phone or tablet. It sometimes works with the functions already built into the phone, such as GPS.
A web app on the other hand is a software designed to be accessed through any browser, but it’s custom coded as opposed to being built on a no-code website builder. Sometimes, like in the case of a Progressive Web Apps, the link can be saved onto the homescreen of a mobile device, so it looks like an app, but still opens within a browser when tapped. It saves like a shortcut on a desktop, but with an interface that resembles an app.
Pros and Cons of Building a Mobile App
Mobile apps can be designed for a specific operating system and leverage the native functionality of the mobile device, giving them unique capabilities. Increasingly more common these days is to build mobile apps in cross platform languages, like React and Flutter, allowing one codebase to support an app on both iOS and Android platforms. But mobile apps are generally more expensive to develop than web apps. 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.) Allowing apps to access these native features also makes using them feel seamless. For example, taking a photo within an app feels a lot more natural than using a laptop to take a photo and then upload that onto a web app. As well, mobile apps are hosted on local databases, so they offer consistent fast speeds.
- Marketing Options — There are a lot of ways to monetize your app. Having different options also means you can pick the one that fits with your app the best. As well, more than one method can be used. The flexibility in monetization is a big advantage of mobile apps.
- Offline Access — Many mobile apps offer offline access not dependent on WiFi once the user downloads the app. If a software product would benefit from allowing users to add and save data even when not connected to WiFi, or even cell service, then a mobile app can offer this advantage.
- Targeting a Wider Audience — Most businesses require an app these days. Many customers prefer using an app to the web version. Users like the convenience of being able to book a flight conveniently from their phone, shop at their favorite store, and order a coffee all quickly from an app.
- Reengagement Opportunity — Mobile apps allow push notifications to be sent when certain actions trigger the alert. This can even be sending a user a notification if they haven’t logged in or used the app in awhile. Gentle reminders such as this, alongside seeing an app icon on a mobile phone screen, can remind users to log in and potentially re-engage users that would have otherwise dropped off or forgotten about the software entirely.
Mobile App Disadvantages
- Cost of Development — Apps are relatively young in the world of software, so there are not many options that allow the average person to create one cheaply. Most apps still require custom code and integrations with other services so features like messaging and payment processing can be provided. The cheapest custom coded, bare-bones app would still cost $30,000-$40,000, which is a lot compared to a website. The cost of an app is more than a web app.
- Cost of Maintenance — Mobile apps require regular maintenance updates for bug fixes, security issues, etc. Though cross platform languages have made bug fixes easier, there are still more updates required to keep a mobile app’s code clean when compared to a web app.
- Large Apps Take up Storage — Some robust or complex apps can require a lot of storage space to download. For example, the popular gaming app Fortnight is a whopping 3 Gb. If a phone’s storage space is limited or a user has already downloaded a lot of apps, then large apps are often the first to get deleted in order to free up space.
- Download Required — There are currently millions of apps available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. This means there is a strong chance that your app won’t be the one found by your target users as app stores are structured for great organic search result deliveries.
- Share Profits with the App Store: Listing an app on the app store costs money. For Apple, listing on their app store costs an annual fee of $99, then they earn 15% commission on all in-app purchases, up to the point where your app earns 1 million dollars. At that point the commision jumps up to 30%. Hosting an app on the Google Play store is similar, except it’s a one time fee of $25, then follows the same commission structure as Apple.
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 the operating system, through the browser. This means a wider audience and potentially a larger user base.
- 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. Web updates also typically don’t render web apps unusable, whereas it could very quickly prevent a mobile operating system from functioning properly.
- Better Discovery on Search Engines — Web apps are displayed in search results (think: Google), so anyone can find them. Most people turn to a search engine when they’re trying to find answers to questions. This includes searching terms like “best organization software.” If your software is aimed at these keywords, then there is a better chance people would find your web app in a search result when compared to a mobile app. There are also more ways to manipulate a web app to get it to rank higher in search results than there are to actively affect app store rankings.
- 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.
- No Download Required: Users can click into a web app and out as they please. Though downloading an app is fairly painless, it does require more investment from a user. In a world where most online decisions are made in under 2 seconds, a web app stays competitive as it doesn’t require downloading anything to view it and therefore encourages more curious users to poke around.
Web App Disadvantages
- Less Integration with Device Functions — Web apps offer limited ability to access a mobile device’s native features like camera and location services. As web apps are not native to any one operating system, it means sometimes they can’t access specific features that cater to that OS.
- Slower Speeds — Variations in web browsers can occasionally cause challenges in running the web app without issues. Web apps tend to not run as quickly as a mobile app hosted on a local server. If the browser is having an issue, that will also directly impact the web app.
- 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. If a user runs out of data or is in an area where they are weak to no signal, then they can’t view or input important information into the web app.
- 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.
- Safety and Security: There is no vetting and approval process in place for web apps, like how mobile apps must adhere to specific standards to be in app stores. This means web apps could potentially exist that aren’t very secure, making it easy for your data to be threatened.
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 choice to take.
- If you have a tight budget, you may want to launch as a web app.
- If your platform makes more sense to be discovered through keywords in a search browser, then a web app is for you. If you need to target a wider audience, then a mobile app could be the answer.
- 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.
You might also like: