How to Convert a React Web App to a Mobile App with Canvas

This article will lay out the best way to convert a react web app to a mobile app. 

We’ll introduce several options, including rebuilding it from scratch in React Native, or converting your app into a Progressive Web App. We’ll then explain why MobiLoud Canvas is a more powerful and efficient way to create a React mobile app.

Why Create a Mobile App?

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re already convinced about the value of native mobile apps. But on the off-chance you’re still at all skeptical, here are a few reasons why converting to a mobile app makes sense.

  1. A better user experience: mobile users today demand a native mobile experience. Mobile web apps just can’t stack up against an app experience.
  2. Driving loyalty and retention: mobile apps have a clear advantage when it comes to retaining users, and generating loyal, engaged followers, due to the improved UX and your app’s presence on their home screen.
  3. Visibility, brand presence and traffic from app stores: the App Store and Google Play offer a powerful, cost-effective customer acquisition channel. They also offer another level of social proof and legitimacy for your brand.
  4. Reliable push notifications: a native app lets you send notifications to your users and get them into your app, whereas web-based apps are forced to rely on web notifications, which are less effective (and unavailable on iOS).

For a more in-depth look at the benefits of converting your web app to mobile apps, take a moment to check out this article.

Now, let’s move on to the specifics of how to build a mobile app with React.

Converting a React Web App to React Mobile App

You’ve got a successful web app, built using React, and now you want to convert that web app to native mobile apps on iOS/Android. To do so, you’ve got several options.

First, you can rebuild your web app from the ground up for mobile, using React Native. Another method is to convert it to a Progressive Web Application, or PWA.

Or, as we’ll explain later, you can build a wrapper app using MobiLoud Canvas, which is the most straightforward and efficient way to convert a React app to mobile apps.

Rebuild Your App Using React Native

Where ReactJS (or simply React) is a component-based JavaScript library used for building web apps and interfaces, React Native is the mobile equivalent, designed for building apps in iOS and Android.

While that may make it sound like it’s easy to just translate your app from React to React Native, it’s not. You essentially need to rebuild everything in React Native.

React Native is a fine framework for native mobile apps. After all, Facebook, Instagram, Walmart, Bloomberg and Wix all built their mobile apps with React Native. But converting your React web app to React Native is a large undertaking.

(image source)

The upside of building a native mobile app is being able to fully streamline your app experience, building every part of your app specifically with mobile app users in mind.

However, it takes significant investment in time, expertise and working hours. This translates into a huge cost for your project, and significant time before your mobile apps can go to market.

If you want a quicker and cheaper path to convert your React app to mobile apps, consider going in a different direction.

Convert Your React Web App to a PWA

A quicker option is to convert your app into a Progressive Web Application. A PWA is technically a web app, not a native mobile app like it would be if you decide to rebuild in React Native. But it’s designed to leverage some app-like features, to perform more like a mobile app than a traditional web-first application.

PWAs offer the use of elements like offline support, a launcher icon and push notifications (though only on Android). 

Think of this option more as a cross-platform app than a purpose-built mobile app. It’s a web app that is built and optimized to be accessed across multiple platforms and devices, including desktop and mobile.

starbucks app mockup
Starbucks’ PWA

Progressive Web Apps cut down the time required to launch your app, while offering some of the experience that a native app does. But you sacrifice some of the functionality of a true native mobile app, such as push notifications. As a PWA is browser-based, you won’t have the use of push notifications at all for iOS.

In addition, though you can install a shortcut to the app on home screens, you miss out on the discoverability you get from being in app stores. 

All in all, while PWAs are more intuitive than normal web apps for mobile users, they are cumbersome when compared to other options.

Convert Your React App to a Wrapper App

The best solution for most businesses is to convert your web app to a “wrapper app”. This is a fast and easy option to leverage most of the benefits of native mobile apps, such as app store discoverability and push notifications, without completely rebuilding your app.

A wrapper app repackages your web app within a wrapper or “shell” of a native app. It uses “webviews” to take the content from your web application and place it in between a shell created with mobile app elements.

The Quora app, showing an example of a mobile app with webviews. (source)

This allows you to maintain the same content, plugins, and UI of the web app, while accessing the benefits of native iOS and Android mobile apps, including dedicated mobile navigation, an app store presence and push notifications.

A wrapper app is simply the best mix of simplicity and functionality when you want to create a mobile version of a web app.

Benefits of Wrapper Apps vs Native Apps

For most businesses, a wrapper app is preferable to building a native mobile app from scratch.

While a fully native app can have each part of the UX designed specifically for mobile app users, there are significant payoffs that make it not worthwhile.

First, the time and cost of completely rebuilding an app for mobile is enormous. You need a team of developers – potentially with different developers to work on the iOS and Android apps separately – which can easily result in a project costing $50,000 or more.

It also requires a dedicated team to maintain, since your web app and mobile apps are separate platforms.

A wrapper app means when you update the web version of your application, the mobile apps update with it, as they show the same content.

An example of a mobile web app vs a wrapped Canvas app.

While you might think that mobile apps built and catered specifically to mobile users are worth it, a lot of companies just want the mobile apps to do the same thing as their web app. If this is the case for you as well, the cost, time investment and ongoing maintenance you save with a wrapped app makes this the best option.

Click here to read more about why Canvas beats developing native apps from scratch.

Wrapper Apps vs Mobile Web or PWAs

You might think that if you’re going to show a wrapped version of your web app, why not just keep it simple and stick with the web app itself?

Though you’re not getting a fully native mobile app when you turn your React web app into a wrapper app, you do have the ability to layer on certain elements of native mobile apps that offer nearly all the functionality you’d want on mobile.

This includes push notifications and a presence on app stores. You’ll also benefit from having your app appear on your users’ home screens, which drives higher loyalty and return traffic.

Plus, you can customize your apps by layering on certain other app-specific elements, without needing to completely rebuild the whole thing from scratch.

Converting a React Web App to Mobile Apps with Canvas

Our tool, Canvas, offers the best way to build a mobile app from your existing React web app.

It’s a fast, affordable and stress-free alternative to rebuilding with React Native. Canvas creates wrapped mobile app versions of your React web app, maintaining the functionality of the web app while adding the features of native mobile apps.

These features include: 

  • Native tab bar and navigation
  • Unlimited push notifications on iOS and Android
  • Native splash screens and loading indicators
  • Push preferences and a message center for more effective notifications
  • Automatic ratings prompts
  • App analytics

The result is the simplest and most effective mobile version of your web app, and the quickest way into the App Store and Google Play.

Convert Your React App to Mobile Apps Today

The process for turning your React web app into apps for iOS and Android with Canvas is simple.

  1. First, schedule a demo call to discuss the process and be sure it’s the right option for you.
  2. Sign up for Canvas. Canvas requires no long-term contracts, a 60 day refund policy, and plans starting from $100 per month.
  3. Submit your React app on our platform, upload your logo and give us some key information about the apps.
  4. Configure your apps through Canvas. You’ll set up the menu, color scheme, logins, push notification settings, analytics, ratings prompts, and any other key features of your mobile apps.
  5. Wait for our team to build your apps. They’ll be ready for testing within a few days.
  6. Test on your own iOS and Android devices to get a feel of your mobile app experience.
  7. Once you’re happy, we’ll submit and publish your apps on the App Store and Google Play.

That’s it. The whole process is extremely simple, and it allows anyone, regardless of technical ability, to take a web app built on React and convert it to a mobile app.

Unless you really need new, purpose-built functionality for your mobile apps, and can justify the investment of time, money and additional resources in building fully native mobile apps, Canvas is the best option for you.

Book a demo now to get started!