Native App vs Webview App: What Do You Really Need?

So you want to build a mobile app – not just a Progressive Web App (PWA), but a fully-fledged mobile app you can publish to the app stores. That gives you two options: build a native app, or a webview app.

You might think you need a fully native mobile app to get into the app stores, enable users to download your app, and utilize mobile features like push notifications. But you may find that it’s not necessary, and a webview app – like you can build with MobiLoud Canvas – is all you need.

This post will take a deep dive into both native apps and webview apps. We’ll define each term, break down the benefits of each, and help you decide which type of mobile app is right for your project.

We cover the following:

  1. What is a Native App?
  2. What is a Webview App?
  3. The Benefits of Webview Apps
  4. The Benefits of Native Apps
  5. Webview & Native Apps vs Mobile Web
  6. Webview vs Native App: How to Decide Which Is Right For You
  7. How to Create a Webview App

Let’s get to it.


Want to build mobile apps without the usual investment and months of development? The fastest and most affordable way to build a mobile app is to convert your existing site into native mobile apps. With MobiLoud Canvas, you can convert any type of site into native mobile apps. All your site features work out of the box. Get a free a demo to learn how it works and if it’s a good fit for your site.


What is a Native App?

A native app is a software application built specifically for mobile operating systems.

These operating systems are predominantly the Android or iOS platforms. There are others that exist, such as the Windows OS or Blackberry OS, however Android and iOS make up 98.7% of the mobile OS market, so we’ll only focus on these two.

A native app needs to use specific programming languages in order to run on mobile platforms. For native iOS apps, this is generally Swift or Objective-C, while native Android apps are written in Java.

That means each native app is limited to a single OS. For example, an iOS app can’t run on Android devices, and vice versa. There are some exceptions, such as the React Native framework, but generally if you’re building native apps you’ll need to build separate apps for each OS you want to support.

What is a Webview App?

A webview app is a type of hybrid app, which allows you to reuse content and code across multiple mobile platforms, as well as the web.

A webview is essentially a dedicated mobile browser window, contained within the shell of a mobile app.

It shows a live view of a website (hence the name “web-view”), only without the browser tabs or URL bar. These are replaced by mobile UI elements, such as a native tab menu.

quora native web
How a hybrid app utilizes webviews and mobile app UI elements

The website inside of the webview is fully functional. Users can navigate the site just as they would in their browser. A webview app can also be downloaded to a user’s mobile device and published to the app stores, like a native app.

What Are the Benefits of Webview Apps?

Let’s take a look at a few key benefits of webview apps, over fully native mobile apps.

One code base to manage

One of the trickiest parts of native app development is that, if you want to enter both the iOS and Android markets, you’ll need to build two separate apps.

This requires two different code bases, in two different frameworks – in addition to your website.

So that’s three code bases, assuming you have a website/web app, Android app and iOS app. That’s a lot of work to keep everything in line.

On the other hand, webview apps only require one code base. You’ll maintain your web platform as usual, and the mobile apps fall in line. This means significantly less work and hassle in the long run.

Time to launch

The ability to reuse code also means it’s much quicker and simple to launch your apps.

Mobile app development takes a long time. If you want to build native apps from scratch, you should expect to wait at least six months for the project to be completed. And that’s with two sets of developers, one for Android, one for iOS, working at the same time.

A webview app is much, MUCH faster. You’ve only got to configure the outer shell of your app – 90% of the work is already done. It also lets you launch on multiple platforms at the same time, with roughly the same development effort.

Cost

Along with saving time, you save a lot of money building webview apps over native apps.

Native app projects cost tens of thousands of dollars. It’s a specialized area, and developers who excel at building native apps don’t come cheap.

A webview app is significantly less complex, and you don’t have to pay two high-end developers for 6 months, slashing your required budget.

Integrating website features

If you’re building mobile app versions of your website or web app, you may have specific features you want to carry over from web to app.

They could be certain plugins, integrations, your theme, or custom-built features.

You might struggle to recreate these features in a native mobile app. With a webview app, however, anything that works on your website should work the same way in your mobile app.

What Are the Benefits of Native Apps?

Let’s move on to the advantages of building fully native mobile apps.

Flexibility

Building natively allows you to do more than with webview apps.

You’ve got control over every pixel in your app. Every interaction, every screen can be customized the way you want it.

You can build your UI to specific conventions for each platform. You don’t need to worry about making sure your app looks great on Android AND iOS. All you do is tweak your UI for each individual app.

App speed and performance

Native apps generally deliver higher performance than other types. They’re built specifically for the OS they’re installed on, and contain a lot of the files needed to run the app in the app package itself.

This means they’re almost always faster and smoother to run – though hybrid app technology like webviews is catching up in this area.

Hardware compatibility

Being built specifically for mobile devices, native apps make it easiest to tap into hardware features. Examples being the camera, microphone, GPS, etc.

Some webview apps or hybrid apps can also use device features, but it’s generally a little harder to do so without building natively.

Easier pathway to app store approval

Native apps are easier to get into the app stores. The iOS app store and Google Play store don’t like webview apps. Low-effort webview apps (think a blank app UI with an embedded iframe) are likely to be rejected by the app stores.

This is not true for all webview apps. When they’re well-made, they pass the test, as high-quality webview apps are largely indistinguishable from native apps. 

Webview & Native Apps vs Mobile Web

In addition to their individual benefits, both webview apps and native apps provide big advantages over mobile websites (including Progressive Web Apps).

Today, every website should be optimized to work well on mobile devices. There’s no excuse. Over half of all online traffic is on mobile, versus less than 40% for desktop.

But providing the best experience for mobile users goes further than that. People spend 90% of their mobile time using apps, over mobile websites. That’s because the UI and UX is tailored specifically to mobile, instead of feeling like it’s been built for desktop-first.

The browser tabs on mobile websites are distracting and take away from the UI. Navigation tends to be clunky as well.

Apps are a great way to increase retention. They make it super easy for people to come back and use your app every day, with just one tap from the home screen bringing them into the app.

Then there’s the ability to get into the app stores. This is a big social proof signal for your brand, a potential acquisition channel, and an SEO boost for your website. Only mobile apps (native or webview apps) allow you to publish to the app stores.

Finally, mobile apps let you use certain features, including push notifications. You can send push notifications from the web, but it’s limited in terms of what you can do, and which operating systems you can use them on.

For full use of push notifications – a powerful way to communicate with your users – you need to escape the browser and launch mobile apps.

To read in-depth about native apps, web apps, hybrid apps, including the benefits of each and several case studies, check out this post.

Webview vs Native App: How to Decide Which Is Right For You

Webview apps and native apps are both a great choice, and better than relying on mobile web alone.

But which is best? Or, more importantly, which is right for you?

In a vacuum, native apps are definitely “better”. They’re tailor-made for each operating system, faster, more powerful, and allow you to create every element of the app with mobile users in mind.

If all else were equal, you’d want to build native apps every time. However, it’s not all equal.

You’ve also got to consider the time, cost, and effort required to build and launch your apps, as well as to maintain them.

Each of these is significantly less with webview apps. You build faster, for less money, and the apps require less ongoing maintenance.

Let’s say you want to commission native Android and iOS apps for your brand. You’ll be waiting over half a year for your project to be completed. This will likely cost more than $50,000, all things considered. And that’s not it – you’ll also need to pay developers for maintenance and fixes, which adds around 10% of the initial cost on a yearly basis.

With a webview app, you can go live for less than $2,000, in less than two weeks, on both Android and iOS.

IF you need complete flexibility with your mobile apps, and these are going to be the #1 way people interact with your brand, it might make sense to build natively (assuming you can afford it).

But in 95% of cases, a webview app provides equal (or better) value at significantly lower expense and complexity.

Create a Webview App with MobiLoud Canvas

MobiLoud Canvas is the best way to utilize webviews and launch mobile apps for your website or web app.

We’ve helped over 1,200 brands launch webview apps, and enter the mobile app space for a fraction of the cost and time of native development.

An example of a hybrid mobile app built in Canvas

Canvas is not just an app builder, but a full service. Our team of experts provides hands-on support to help you turn your website into powerful mobile apps. All you need to do is configure a few small things about your mobile apps, and our team handles the rest – including updates and maintenance.

Unlike many solutions that use webviews, Canvas apps seamlessly integrate webviews with native mobile UI, meaning you deliver a user experience that’s almost indistinguishable from that of a true native app.

This also means you can be confident your apps will be approved by the app stores. In fact, when you build an app with Canvas, we handle the app store submission process and guarantee approval.

You can read numerous success stories here from brands that went with Canvas to launch high-quality mobile apps.

If you want to have the same success, book a free, personalized demo with one of our app experts today to learn more about the process and how Canvas can help you.