If you want to build an app and are trying to choose between building a web app vs mobile app, you’re in the right place.
This article will give a clear definition of each, along with the key differences, pros and cons of web apps and mobile apps. It will also give you a definitive answer on which kind of app is best for your project.
Read on for more!
What is a Web App?
The code for a web application is stored on a remote server, which a web browser (e.g. Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari) accesses and delivers to the user when they input the app’s URL.
The terms web app and website are sometimes used interchangeably, but typically a web app refers to a website with a high level of interactivity, as opposed to simply a static content site.
This also includes Progressive Web Apps, which offer greater functionality and a mobile-like experience, while still running in the browser.
To learn more about Progressive Web Apps, check out our ultimate guide.
What is a Mobile App?
A mobile app is a software application that works on the operating system of a mobile device, such as Android OS or iOS.
Mobile app code is downloaded directly onto the user’s device, rather than remotely hosted and accessed through a browser. This allows mobile apps to operate without an internet connection (though some mobile apps will require online connectivity for certain features).
Pros and Cons of Mobile Apps vs Web Apps
Here’s a short breakdown of the pros and cons of building mobile apps and web apps, from a business’ standpoint.
Pros of Web Apps
- Easy to develop and deploy.
- Work on any platform with an internet browser and an active internet connection (desktop PC, laptop, mobile devices).
- Easier and cheaper to update and maintain.
- Web app development experience is easier to find than mobile developers.
Cons of Web Apps
- Don’t offer an optimal user experience for mobile users.
- Web apps tend to be slow to run on mobile devices.
- May not be as secure as mobile apps.
- Engagement and retention is lower than with mobile apps.
Pros of Mobile Apps
- Offer a user-friendly, engaging and immersive experience on mobile.
- Can provide offline functionality.
- Can tap into mobile device features, such as GPS, camera, etc.
- Allow businesses to send push notifications to app users on all devices.
- Deliver higher engagement and retention.
- Can be published and promoted on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Cons of Mobile Apps
- Can be difficult to develop.
- Mobile app development is generally expensive and time-consuming.
- More difficult and expensive to maintain.
- Native mobile apps require separate builds to serve different platforms/operating systems.
Key Points of Difference Between a Web App vs Mobile App
Let’s dive a little deeper into the pros and cons mentioned above, and how web apps and mobile apps stack up against each other.
The key differences are in deployment, platform compatibility, and the investment required to build and maintain.
Web apps are deployed via a mobile browser, while a mobile app has its code downloaded locally to the user’s device.
That makes it easier for new users to access and use a web application. They can follow a link to the app or find it from Google, and start using it right away.
With a mobile app, users need to take action and download the app to their device before they can open and use it.
Though this acts as a point of friction, it also makes mobile apps “stickier”, as they remain on the user’s device until uninstalled. The mobile app’s icon stays on the user’s home screen, and the user can get back into the app with one tap. A web app disappears from the device when the browser tab is closed, and relies on the user to consciously enter the URL again.
Web apps can work on any device with a browser and internet connection, unlike mobile apps, which can only work on the platform they've been coded for.
This can be a pro or a con either way. On one hand, it’s a pro for web apps, as one code base can serve a wider number of users on a wider range of platforms.
On the other hand, mobile apps are able to provide a deeper, more immersive and more satisfying experience on mobile devices, as they’ve been built specifically for the platform they run on.
Though web apps are more widely accessible across different platforms, their user experience suffers by trying to cater to multiple user types.
Investment (Time, Money, Effort)
Web apps are quicker, easier and cheaper to build than mobile apps, in almost all cases.
The technology behind web apps is less complicated, and there are a greater abundance of developers and development tools available for building web apps.
Native mobile app development is difficult in comparison. It takes a long time to code mobile apps, developers are harder to find, and command a higher rate.
A native mobile app typically costs 5 or 6 figures to build, and requires two separate builds and development teams to launch on both of the most popular mobile operating systems (iPhone and Android).
Cross-platform and hybrid apps cut down this investment to varying degrees, though, sometimes saving as much as 80%+ of the development cost of native apps.
How to Choose the Best Type of App For Your Project
There’s not necessarily a “best” type of app between mobile and web apps. The best type of app depends on what you want to accomplish, your target audience, your budget, and how much time you have to spend on development.
The following section gives a straightforward look at how to choose the type of app that’s right for you.
Consider your target audience
Think who you are building the app for. If your target audience primarily uses mobile devices, then you should build a mobile app.
If you’re not sure about this, the data shows that a large part of your target audience are likely mobile users. More people worldwide today go online on mobile than desktop, and this number continues to rise.
If you believe your audience uses a variety of different platforms, you may want to build a web app first, to cater to a wider range of users. Hybrid apps can also be a great choice here, to serve more users on more platforms.
Necessary functionality of your app
What features does the app need to have?
If your app needs to access the device's hardware or sensors, then a mobile app is a must. The same goes if you are building an app where users take/upload pictures or videos, like an Instagram/TikTok/Snapchat-type app.
Do you need or want your app to be accessible offline? If so, you’ll need a mobile app.
Also consider location features, push notifications, tap and swiping functionality and more features that are not necessarily exclusive to mobile apps, but are a lot easier and work a lot better with mobile apps than mobile web apps.
On another note, does your app need to work on desktop as well as mobile? If so, you’ll want to build a web app - or at least a hybrid app that’s able to work on more than just mobile.
How much money do you have to spend on your project?
If you’re on a tight budget, you might want to build a web app instead of a mobile app. Web apps are significantly cheaper, especially compared to native mobile apps.
They’re also much cheaper to maintain. When you build a mobile app, you need to take into account 15-20% of the initial development cost for maintenance and updates every year.
Because of the lower investment, many companies choose to build their app as a web app first, to use as an MVP or “proof of concept” to generate backing or investment they need to build a mobile app.
Consider, though, that there are some ways to build mobile apps that bring the cost down significantly. Hybrid app builders like MobiLoud, for example, reduce the cost to build a mobile app by nearly 90%, letting you go live for low four figures.
See 10+ examples of high-profile hybrid apps in this post.
Finally, consider how long your desired launch timeline is.
It takes a long time to build native mobile apps (often 6+ months of full-time development). Web apps can be built and launched a lot faster.
Hybrid mobile apps, again, offer an interesting compromise between the two. Certain hybrid app builders let you go live in as little as two weeks, with fully-functional mobile apps.
Web App vs Mobile App: Which is Better? (Final Thoughts)
Ultimately, web apps and mobile apps can be powerful and useful tools to serve your target audience.
The right choice depends on what you want to accomplish, and who you want to serve.
Building web apps is cheaper, faster and easier. Web apps can be used by a wider range of users on a single build. Yet you will sacrifice usability, engagement and retention, particularly with mobile users.
Mobile apps are more difficult and require greater investment to launch. And mobile apps built with native programming language only work on a specific platform.
Yet mobile apps perform much better than web apps with mobile users and are easier to use on mobile.
The optimal path, for most cases, is to build both. Most have target users on mobile and desktop, and this allows you to cater to all users, while accessing the benefits of mobile apps.
Instead of sinking 6+ figures into a native app, a more accessible option is to build a web app first, and convert it to a hybrid app with MobiLoud.
This lets you cater to users on all devices, without the investment of native apps, and with much lower upkeep.
There are many benefits to using MobiLoud, including:
- All the mobile development done for you (no coding or coding knowledge required)
- Go live with both iOS apps and Android apps.
- As little as two weeks to launch.
- Build your app for the web, then convert all your features to your mobile apps.
- Updates, maintenance, bug fixes and support included (no 5-6 figure recurring yearly cost).
- 90% of the functionality of native mobile apps, for <10% of the cost.
- App store approval guaranteed.
It's the most straightforward way to build a mobile application today, and far superior to native apps in 95% of cases.
To get started, schedule a free, custom, 1:1 demo with one of our app experts. We'll walk you through the process, show you a working prototype, and give you everything you need to give the go ahead and start your project.