What Is Web Application
Mobile apps are more expensive to develop than web apps, and because they are platform-specific, launching an app across different platforms pretty much means starting from scratch in terms of design and development. However, they are much faster, and tend to be more advanced in terms of features and functionality.
Native mobile apps are built using specific languages and Integrated Development Environments (IDE) depending on the intended platform. Apple devices run on the iOS native operating system, so Apple apps are built using either Objective-C or Swift, and the Xcode IDE. Native apps for Android are written in Java and are commonly built using the Android Studio or Eclipse IDE.
Apple and Google also provide their own development tools, interface elements and software development kits (SDK) which developers can use to build native mobile apps.
In light of recent web development trends, it’s also worth being aware of progressive web apps. While standard web apps lack some of the functionality that mobile apps can offer, progressive web apps fall somewhere in between.
Unlike standard web apps (and more like native mobile apps), progressive web apps are able to work offline, and load extremely quickly. This is primarily down to advancements in the sophistication of the modern browser: thanks to the Application Cache feature, websites can now store large volumes of data offline. Progressive web apps can therefore be used without an internet connection, giving them some typical native mobile app functionalities such as push notifications, native video and audio capture, and native video playback.
Just like standard web apps, progressive web apps don’t require download or installation. In many ways, they seem to offer the best of both worlds. As Alex Russell, who invented the term, describes them: PWAs are “responsive, connectivity-independent, app-like, fresh, safe, discoverable, re-engageable, installable, linkable web experiences.”
Because of the way PWAs make it so easy to bring an app to consumers (see: everything that came before this), there are some very real savings in terms of the time involved to develop, launch, and market the app.
This low cost of entry makes a PWA very attractive to retail and hospitality businesses looking for a return on their investment.
Native apps have changed the way consumers interact with businesses—the app is a marketing tool and storefront all in one—and PWAs are perfectly suited for this use. The ease with which a business can get a customer using their app is crucial in this regard.
Though they don’t have quite the capabilities that a native app does, PWAs vastly improve the e-commerce experience on the mobile web.
They vastly improve it compared to shopping on your computer at home, too. Go to your phone and shop for a pizza on the Domino’s pizza website, then shop for the same thing using their app. One of those experiences was much better.
If they’d been running a PWA, it could and would look and act just like the native app. There’d be no scrolling jitters, the text would be easier to read—just a clean, responsive, interactive experience.
Also, while PWAs lag behind native apps in terms of features, they can do what is arguably the most important one for a consumer app: push notifications.
When users opt-in to pushes, retailers get to market directly to them using what is arguably the most effective form of mobile communication.
These can happen whether or not the browser is running, so you’ve got 24/7 messaging access to users. Don’t wake them up in the middle of the night, though, even though you totally could.
So, yes: Progressive Web Apps are a future of mobile. Not the future of mobile, but definitely one of them. That’s because native apps aren’t going away anytime soon.
PWAs solved the problem of easy onboarding and compatibility, but then create a new one: not being able to fully interact with the device on which they’re run.
Remember, it’s the browser that delivers the Progressive Web App experience, but it’s the device and OS that make the browser possible.
That extra layer of software-running-software acts as a kind of wall between the PWA and the device and that wall gives the advantage to native apps in several areas.
It’s true. The code lives on the device where it’s being processed, and it’s been written specifically for that device.
Think of it as a language translation. You and I both speak English and talk directly to one another. If you only spoke French, though, we’d need a translator between us to facilitate the conversation, but also slowing it down. The browser is the translator for a web app and adds latency to the experience.
If you’ve never heard of it, GEO-fencing enables app makers to define virtual perimeters in the actual world.
When their users step inside those boundaries, it triggers an action on the device. When combined with push notifications, GEOfencing is incredibly powerful for marketing and retail applications.
Imagine being able to automatically send messages to your customers: Hey, you’re really close to our shop! Come on in the next hour and get a 10% discount. A PWA can use location services to know where the device is, but at this time the only way to make that work with a GEOfence is with a native app.
Near Field Communication is the protocol your phone uses when you use it to pay for things. PWAs don’t have a way to interact with the NFC chip that makes these payments possible.
If you’re a brick and mortar store that accepts digital payments, you’re going to need to go native if you want your app to be able to play along.
Mobile payments greatly enhance the customer experience and also tie in nicely with your app in a variety of ways (like if you have a loyalty component built-in to it).
You know when you go to create a user account with an app, and you’re given the option of logging in with Facebook?
It saves you a lot of time: you choose the option, the Facebook app pops up and passes the credentials along and you’re done, right back to what you were doing and logged in.
That kind of thing doesn’t happen with PWAs—there’s no mechanism for them to talk to other apps, native or otherwise. Apart from being a timesaver for the user, this ability also centralizes their logins to a single sign-on (more or less).
Ensuring that users don’t have yet another account to remember is actually a pretty nice thing you can do for them.
Features like a proximity sensor and ambient light detection aren’t necessarily need-to-haves, but they are the kind of things that make your smartphone smart.
If it’s dark in the room, your phone won’t blind you with its brightest screen setting. Put the phone face down on a table, and the screen automatically shuts off to conserve battery.
Also, your spouse will think you’re hiding something, so always keep your phone face up.
A wake lock is when an app overrides the system setting for turning the screen off after a certain amount of time of inactivity.
If you read books on your device or stream movies, you’ll notice that you can go for long periods of time without interacting with the device and the screen never goes black.
PWAs can’t do this and depending on a user’s settings their device could go dark while they’re in the middle of reading or looking at something.
Remember up above, when I was going on about the bureaucracy of the app stores, and how it slows things down? Well, sure it’s a pain, but it also serves a purpose.
That review process is essentially a third-party quality control review—users can download with confidence knowing that the app isn’t going to contain any malicious code, spyware, malware, etc. That’s not at all guaranteed with PWAs.
They do operate over secure connections but remember that running a web app is as simple as visiting the web page where it lives.
You arrive at the page, and you’re running the app. It wouldn’t take a lot for someone with bad intentions to exploit that connection.
There’s a lot to like about both native and Progressive Web Apps, and there’s still enough difference between them at this point that deciding between them can be a clear-cut exercise.
The choice is dependent on your needs (which, really, is what all choices should be dependent on).
Do you want a basic consumer/retail app that makes it easy for your customers to interact with and shop with you when they’re not in your store? PWAs are a good fit.
Especially for a small business, which might not have the time or resources to put into creating a mobile masterpiece, PWAs are a great solution.
They can give businesses a compelling mobile presence—and the tools to reach customers—that might not have been able to build one otherwise. PWAs are an equalizer of sorts in this regard, putting small—and likely cash-strapped—businesses onto a more competitive playing field.
Do you want something that takes full advantage of the smartphone and its capabilities? Native apps are the way to go. For a business that can afford one, even through a DIY app builder, the ability to GEOfence and reach customers when they’re nearby could be worth the price difference all on its own.
Integrating payments is also another feature that ups the mobility factor of an app. There’s no question that a native app delivers a more robust, better performing user experience once it’s installed.
Of course, all this could change in the next few years, since technological advancement is as stagnant as a three-year-old on a sugar high.
PWAs continue to gain features as developers try and push the limits of what can be done inside the browser. But there’s no definitive timeline on this, and native apps will also keep growing as the devices they sit on get more advanced.
Whichever way you go, though, the ultimate goal is to deliver an application that users can easily work with and benefit from. And there’s no question you can do that either way. The choice is yours.
There is a common misconception that native mobile apps and web apps are the same thing — but actually, the two are very different.
Not only are there differences for the user; they are also developed and deployed differently, so it’s important not to get the two confused.
First though, it can be useful to distinguish between web apps and websites. Simply put, a web app is a website that is designed fluidly, responding to being viewed on a smartphone. There are many different types of websites out there, some are static and rarely updated, while others are responsive and have a great deal of interactivity. Web apps, specifically, function like downloadable apps, but all from the comfort of your phone’s browser.
But what is the difference between a mobile app and a web app? Let’s take a look.
Native mobile apps are built for a specific platform, such as iOS for the Apple iPhone or Android for a Samsung device. They are downloaded and installed via an app store and have access to system resources, such as GPS and the camera function. Mobile apps live and run on the device itself. Snapchat, Instagram, Google Maps and Facebook Messenger are some examples of popular mobile apps.
Web apps, on the other hand, are accessed via the internet browser and will adapt to whichever device you’re viewing them on. They are not native to a particular system, and don’t need to be downloaded or installed. Due to their responsive nature, they do indeed look and function a lot like mobile apps — and this is where the confusion arises.
Let’s consider the Yelp native app vs. the Yelp.com web app. If you install the Yelp app on your mobile and then access Yelp.com via the browser on your phone, you’ll notice that the web app has been made to look and feel like the native mobile app: it turns your browser bar red, and when you scroll down, locks the search bar in place.
Now we know the fundamental differences between mobile and web apps, we can recap the pros and cons of each:
Mobile Apps vs. Web Apps
Mobile apps are built for a specific platform, such as iOS for the Apple iPhone or Android for a Samsung device. They are downloaded and installed via an app store and have access to system resources, such as GPS and the camera function. Mobile apps live and run on the device itself. Snapchat, Instagram, Google Maps and Facebook Messenger are some examples of popular mobile apps.
on the other hand, are accessed via the internet browser and will adapt to whichever device you’re viewing them on. They are not native to a particular system and don’t need to be downloaded or installed. Due to their responsive nature, they do indeed look and function a lot like mobile apps — and this is where the confusion arises.
While the designs are similar and follow the same fonts and color scheme, these are essentially two different products.
Web apps need an active internet connection in order to run, whereas mobile apps may work offline. Mobile apps have the advantage of being faster and more efficient, but they do require the user to regularly download updates. Web apps will update themselves.
Above all, mobile apps and web apps are designed and built very differently. To further differentiate between the two, it helps to understand how each is developed.