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Web Apps vs. Native Apps

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A frequently asked question we get is why get a native app when web “apps” are becoming so good? Why invest in Apple’s approval process and store (and soon Google’s and others) when you can hire a web developer to build you an HTML5 mobile friendly experience?
As good as web apps may be, they are still a far cry from their native app cousins. Here are a few specific examples that matter to you:
Push Notifications. One of the great things Mobile Roadie customers do with their apps is reach their users – at times geo targeting them up to just one mile around any location – with a “push notification.” This message looks like a text message and appears regardless of whether the app is open or not. It’s an incredibly powerful way to reach users. Web apps simply can’t do this.
U/I. As good as web apps have become, the overall user interface is still dependent on Safari. Things like scrolling, animation, transitions, forms, “cover flow,” and other native app-specific nuances aren’t possible or aren’t as pretty and seamless for users. Loading time is also greater in web apps than native apps. What this really means, quite simply, is that your users will have a better and faster visual experience with a native app – and be more likely to come back and frequent it.
Home screen icon. Yes, you can create a “bookmark” which creates an icon on the iPhone’s home screen to a web “app.” But not everyone knows this. An App comes with a built in presence on the iPhone’s screen – making it easy to find and placing a constant reminder about you/your company/your brand/your group. Additionally, native apps show up in iTunes under Applications; web apps don’t.
Enhanced access. Web apps can’t access your address book, iPod, or camera; native apps can. Native apps can tap into your iPod (to suggest to users what tracks they’re missing from your collection) and address book (to enable easy access to share with friends). Native apps can also access the camera that – in Mobile Roadie’s case – allows users to post photos from a particular event/show.
Your own world. Native apps are all about you – your content, your users, your brand. But with a web app, while users may start off in your world, with one errant click Safari can take them to a completely unrelated website with no clear way back. This can’t happen in a native app.
While we applaud the efforts of developers around the world to improve HTML, Javascript, Flash (not on the iPhone), and other languages to make the web a more mobile-friendly place, there is still a very relevant place for native apps – and it is only going to grow as Apple (and others) add on features to the hardware that only native apps can take advantage of. While it’s a good strategy to have both a mobile-friendly website and a native app – if you wanted to go for the one with the best chances of making a big impact on your customer/fan base – native apps simply blow web apps away.

A frequently asked question we get is why get a native app when web “apps” are becoming so good? Why invest in Apple’s approval process and store (and soon Google’s and others) when you can hire a web developer to build you an HTML5 mobile friendly experience?

As good as web apps may be, they are still a far cry from their native app cousins. Here are a few specific examples that matter to you:

Push Notifications.

push-notificatoins

One of the great things Mobile Roadie customers do with their apps is reach their users – at times geo targeting them up to just one mile around any location – with a “push notification.” This message looks like a text message and appears regardless of whether the app is open or not. It’s an incredibly powerful way to reach users. Web apps simply can’t do this.

U/I.

cover-flow

As good as web apps have become, the overall user interface is still dependent on Safari. Things like scrolling, animation, transitions, forms, “cover flow,” and other native app-specific nuances aren’t possible or aren’t as pretty and seamless for users. Loading time is also greater in web apps than native apps. What this really means, quite simply, is that your users will have a better and faster visual experience with a native app – and be more likely to come back and frequent it.

Home screen icon.

iphone-home

Yes, you can create a “bookmark” which creates an icon on the iPhone’s home screen to a web “app.” But not everyone knows this. An App comes with a built in presence on the iPhone’s screen – making it easy to find and placing a constant reminder about you/your company/your brand/your group. Additionally, native apps show up in iTunes under Applications; web apps don’t.

Enhanced access.

native-app-iphone-dev

Web apps can’t access your address book, iPod, or camera; native apps can. Native apps can tap into your iPod (to suggest to users what tracks they’re missing from your collection) and address book (to enable easy access to share with friends). Native apps can also access the camera that – in Mobile Roadie’s case – allows users to post photos from a particular event/show.

Your own world.

your-iphone-app-code

Native apps are all about you – your content, your users, your brand. But with a web app, while users may start off in your world, with one errant click Safari can take them to a completely unrelated website with no clear way back. This can’t happen in a native app.

While we applaud the efforts of developers around the world to improve HTML, Javascript, Flash (not on the iPhone), and other languages to make the web a more mobile-friendly place, there is still a very relevant place for native apps – and it is only going to grow as Apple (and others) add on features to the hardware that only native apps can take advantage of. While it’s a good strategy to have both a mobile-friendly website and a native app – if you wanted to go for the one with the best chances of making a big impact on your customer/fan base – native apps simply blow web apps away.

  • Gen

    Thanks for these blogs posts. It does get confusing for someone trying to navigate all this on their own.

    My next question around this topic is what’s the difference between a mobile site and an iphone app? How do I know which one I’ll need to or do I really need both?

  • http://mobileroadie.com Michael Schneider

    The difference between web and native is in the UI and the “stickiness” and “slickness” of the app. The user experience is far better on native. Long term the web may catch up but in the near future I would suggest native over web.

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  • http://ipadcto.com Bill French

    Michael, good article.

    I think web apps will make a huge leap forward in the coming 24 months but there will always be cases where native apps trump web apps. I created this dynamic spreadsheet to help my company decide which approach (native or web) was right in a given project scenario. http://ipadcto.com/mobile-apps-native-or-web/

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  • http://www.kintek.com.au/ Maurice

    Awesome post, if anyone wants a bit more info on the subject (or something to link their clients to), I just finished a lengthy post on the subject:

    http://www.kintek.com.au/web-design-blog/why-do-you-need-a-mobile-website-web-apps-vs-native-apps/

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  • http://www.dezinebites.com/blog/ fun

    Interesting post and thanks for sharing. Some things in here I have not thought about before.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hernandezru all three

    I agree 100%

  • matt laclear

    Good points

  • http://www.365socialmedia.co.uk muhammad

    The benefits of the native app is that it can work independently of the web, but most are pulling information or function from the web. There is an aspect of “behind the scenes” in the native app that is presenting web content within the app itself sans browser. The native app can work much faster by harnessing the power of the processor. and can access specific hardware like GPS. In some smart phones the app can control devices and act as a controller itself.

    The web app has the fortune of being used on various devices with the only requirement being a web browser and an internet connection. As long as the web app is written for cross-browser compatibility then you’re a go. The dilemma is that in contrast to the native app, it requires internet access and its operation speeds are dependent on the quality of cell signal or the speed of the wi-fi broadband you are connected to. This also alludes to the fact that you have to be in range of either connection. You might not be able to use the web app inside of buildings or in lower level facilities. One other issue is you won’t have access to internal hardware such as GPS and other connectivity.

  • Terri Kim

    @Muhammad: Insightful comments

  • http://www.Sklinar.co.uk Stu Sklinar

    Good points!

    We’ve tried a few “app creators! {titanium,phone gap etc..} but as good as they are… nothing seems to work well…

    As for getting something on the home screen… that should be the website to point out. (don’t make me think?/Steve Krug)

    it seems html5 is the only cost effective way to get cross platform/device… we can sacrifice a dew things along the way….

  • http://www.Sklinar.co.uk Stu Sklinar

    @Muhammad …. you could use the application cache functionality of HTML5….

  • http://www.neteffectservices.com Mike

    I’d love to see this article updated to include some current application development tools. Building seems more to be gearing towards Web Apps taking over. What do you think?

  • http://twitter.com/lenindesign lenin aviles

    I like your post, is simple and to the point, but maybe is a little too simple, yes you have very valid points, but when it comes down to sharing in social media channels or having conversations like we are doing here in your blog, then native apps are full of patches and work arounds to mimic the natural and organic flow of the web, sacrificing the user experience, that is why native apps like The Daily are doing so bad, either you are open to everybody to share content on your app or not but you can have it both ways, and that is why I think the app store will soon become the forgotten Aol of the 90′s and web apps will thrive, it’s all about the flow.

    Here is an article I wrote in my blog with more details about when we should build a web app or a native app: http://silverboxproductions.com/?p=630

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