Do you really need to build native apps for your business? Or is converting your site or web app into mobile apps with Canvas enough?
We’ve written extensively about the difference between native, web and hybrid apps. Let’s say a native app is one you build specifically for iOS and Android, using either the native SDKs and languages like Swift and Kotlin or a framework like React Native.
A Canvas app instead is a wrapper app based on a combination of native code and features and webviews (an SDK component that works like a web browser) that load your remote web application or website.
Unlike a hybrid app, which is loading local web code and mimicking a native app, a Canvas app is loading your actual web app or website, with the advantage of not having to rebuild anything if your mobile app essentially needs to have the same features that your web app already provides.
If you’re wondering why you’d need a mobile app for a web app that already works well on mobile, read our article on 5 reasons why you should convert your web app into mobile apps.
So do you really need a native app or does a Canvas app provide everything you need? Like many things, it depends on your goals. That said, we strongly believe that using Canvas has some unique advantages over traditional native development and that it’s the right choice for 90% of businesses.
Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why you’d want to use a solution like Canvas and have your web app converted into a mobile app, instead of building native apps from scratch.
Let’s start with the cost.
Save $100k+ and Months of Work
Building native apps from scratch is a lot of work, and it’s expensive.
Whether you build your own team or hire an agency, at a minimum, you’re looking at $100k+ to get a good first version out, then another 50% of that for routine maintenance and updates annually, without budgeting for new product features.
Why is it so expensive? Because skilled app developers don’t come cheap, and you’ll probably need at least two of them, working on your app for months.
The more complexity they have to recreate from your existing site the more time it’ll take and costs will skyrocket.
With Canvas, you can be ready to launch apps in just 2 weeks, for a fraction of that cost. No need to hire anyone or have your web developers pick up any new tech, as our team completely takes care of setting up your app and delivering it to the App Store and Google Play.
Think about the opportunity cost here. What could you do with that money and 6-12 months if you invest them in improving your web app or marketing? Quite a lot!
If you want mobile apps that function in the same way that your web app does, using Canvas is a no-brainer and a vastly more efficient route to a similar result – which brings us to the next point.
No need to reinvent the wheel – use what you already have!
When you built your web app, you probably spent a lot of time, effort and brain power figuring out how to make it happen.
Everything had to be painstakingly built, tested and rebuilt to get it perfect and make it a success for the web. How many edge cases, unplanned features, rewrites, integrations, UI/UX improvements and product iterations have you gone through to get to a working web app?
If you rebuild that in native apps, you are doing the same work twice for different platforms. Everything will need to be built again, by different people with different skill sets.
The good news is, with Canvas this is all unnecessary. You’ve already done all the hard work building your web app in the first place.
That same design and functionality can be directly available in your iOS and Android apps, with no rebuilding or duplication of effort.
Faster updates and releases with a single codebase
If you build apps from scratch, half the challenge would be integrating them into your current tech stack. You would need to build an API for your web app, to start. Then build native or hybrid apps that provide similar functionality to what your web app already has.
Once you’re done, you’ll be working with (at least) two different codebases, so every new feature or improvement to your web app needs to be built into your native iOS and Android apps.
As you can imagine, this multiplies the complexity and cost of every new feature and product improvement and it has a clear risk of making ongoing experiments and innovation harder and harder for your product team.
If you’ve built your web app on top of a platform like WordPress, for example, this is even more of a challenge. You’re used to adding, building or adapting existing plugins to add new site functionality, but that’s not something your native apps will be able to offer – every new feature or plugin will require extensive native development to replicate that functionality.
Unless you use Canvas!
With Canvas, there’s no need to worry about “integrating” anything. Because your iOS and Android apps are your web app, they automatically update with your latest features and product improvements. You can focus on building a great mobile web experience, knowing your mobile app users will benefit too!
There’s nothing new to manage and nothing new to integrate. Less headaches, less complexity, and more time for you to focus on your core web product.
If you’re using WordPress, Shopify or another CMS, adding a new plugin or app will immediately make that functionality available to your mobile app users.
Progress and improvements to your website directly translate to your mobile app users. A faster, leaner and more efficient way, for almost anyone, from small to large businesses.
There’s nothing really exceptional about “native” apps
There’s a misconception that only fully native apps are sufficiently fast and provide a good enough user experience. This simply isn’t true, not any more at least.
Developers, agencies especially, like to push for a native app project for its technical superiority vs a hybrid approach and, perhaps, for the higher rates associated with native development, but everything must be considered in the context of what you’re trying to achieve, how good your web experience is already, how complex your web app is and how expensive the development and maintenance of separate native mobile apps will be.
We built everything into Canvas to provide a great user experience and ensure optimal speed. So you can take an already fast and well designed web app and get mobile apps published to the stores in just weeks, at a fraction of the cost, while retaining all the benefits of a native app – push notifications, app store presence, ease of installation, etc.
If your web app itself is designed for an app like experience or at least provides a good experience on mobile, then your Canvas iOS and Android apps will provide an optimal mobile experience too – for most, UX is not a valid reason to spend so much time and money on native development.
You (probably) don’t really need a native app
We will come clean, there are things that you absolutely need a native app for.
If you need to access some specific features of the device like the accelerometer, GPS, direct camera access or facial recognition – you might need to build natively. This is by far the strongest argument for building apps from scratch rather than converting through Canvas.
Do you really need any of these features though? Probably not. And it’s unlikely that you need mobile apps that radically depart from your web app in terms of their functionality.
For 90% of cases, it is more than good enough to repackage the existing web app as mobile apps, giving you all the business advantages of native apps without the drawbacks.
There’s a lot that your web app can do once combined with Canvas and published as a mobile app, for example:
- Sending mobile notifications on both iOS and Android, via OneSignal, through their dashboard or API, or directly from WordPress with our plugin.
- Allowing uploads from the camera, by letting users pick from their gallery or taking a new picture – this can be done with a simple file upload field in your web app.
- Making logins faster and easier, by adjusting cookie duration when the app is used, so users only have to login once from their mobile device.
- Providing a simplified user experience, by hiding or changing parts of your web app when it runs inside the app.
You’ll be in Good Company
It’s not just a money-saving tactic. Repackaging your web app within a container is a legitimate and respectable choice made frequently by multi-billion dollar brands.
Building apps that effectively wrap your existing web app puts you in quite illustrious company.
According to UX Matters:
“Quora is a WebView app of some sort, with a few clearly native components along the edges”
It’s true, the Quora app is a webview with some extra native elements added to ensure a good UX.
Rather than rebuilding their web app from scratch, they repackaged it inside a native wrapper and added the necessary components to achieve their goals, which is exactly what Canvas can do for your business.
It isn’t just Quora either. Again, according to UX Matters:
“We know that Facebook, Evernote, Instagram, LinkedIn, Uber, Slack, Twitter, Gmail, the Amazon Appstore, and many others are or have been WebView apps”
We know that Amazon relies heavily on webviews to create their mobile apps. Basecamp also does this and wrote extensively about their approach.
It certainly wasn’t for a lack of money or struggling to hire technical talent. They chose this solution because it is the smart thing to do when you need iOS and Android apps that do the same thing as your web app.
Do more with your existing team and skills
Whether you’re building apps natively in Swift, Java or Kotlin or you use a cross platform alternative like React Native, it’s unlikely your existing team of web developers will be able to build your app.
This means hiring freelance developers, an agency or adding full time team members. They don’t come cheap – salaries are well into six figures, or $600-$1000 for a day rate.
You also will need their help long after the app launch for every bug fix, new feature, update, customisation or piece of routine maintenance is needed.
If you wrap your web app with Canvas though, your existing team already has the knowledge to manage the apps. Whatever tech stack and CMS you used to build your web app is what the mobile apps run on too – so you already have all the talent you need to work with them.
The other advantage is that Canvas is not just a platform, it’s a complete service. We are with you every step of the way from initial configuration of your app, to publishing, to ongoing maintenance and updates. We’re your mobile partners and are here in any capacity you need to make the apps a success.
We develop a strong working relationship with your team to make the apps a success, without anything new for you or your team to learn, no upfront investments, just simple, affordable fees with no long term contracts.
Everything works out of the box
The more complex your web app the more complicated, time-consuming and expensive it will be to rebuild it in native apps. Every feature, third party tool, and integration with other platforms will need to be painstakingly recreated. You won’t even know what is possible and what isn’t before you’ve commissioned developers to design the apps.
The great thing about Canvas – not only does it work with any website or web app, but it also works with all of their features and functionality. Everything you built for the web will work immediately in the apps too.
When you wrap your web app with Canvas there’s no painful labour or uncertainty. You know that everything you now use on your site will work within the iOS and Android versions – right out of the box.
When You Should NOT Use Canvas
We’ve looked at a few reasons why publishing your web app as mobile apps through Canvas makes perfect sense for most businesses. There are a few exceptions though. Let’s look at the four most common ones.
Canvas is not right for you if:
- Your website doesn’t provide utility or content – if your website is just a simple information site or product catalog or a corporate website, it is not likely to be approved by the App Store and it makes little sense to turn it into mobile apps. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether people will want to download the app and use it frequently. If the answer is no, then what you already have – a mobile responsive website – is probably good enough!
- Your web app primarily sells digital products or subscriptions – Apple and Google requires using their own payment and subscription systems when you’re selling digital content or functionality, whether it’s a subscription or a one-time payment (e.g. and ebook sale). Unfortunately, we don’t have support for in-app purchase in Canvas.
- Your web app is not properly optimized for mobile – this is a requirement, your web app must look good and run fast on mobile devices. If your site is slow or not optimized for mobile, the app experience won’t be good and your app won’t get approved in the App Store
- You are a digital publisher or ecommerce store with a WordPress based site – for news websites, our News platform is a better fit, giving you an app on par with those from top publishers. Our Commerce product allows you to build a native app with all the features of the typical WooCommerce store.
Is Wrapping Your Web App with Canvas the Way to Go?
We’ve looked at a few reasons why we think that a straight up conversion from web app to mobile app is best for most businesses.
Unless you need specific features, it is hard to justify the investment of time and money into native development, especially considering the complexity of managing multiple codebases and how that will slow you down as you work to improve your product and grow your business.
Chances are, what you’ve already built on the web will work great as a Canvas mobile app and give you all the same advantages as native apps built from scratch.
Let’s get started – request a demo today and get ready to launch on the App Stores in under two weeks.