Mobile App vs. Web App: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

People use their mobile phones more than ever before, especially when accessing information online. According to Statista, there are more than 6.64 billion smartphone users worldwide. Another report indicates that in the fourth quarter of 2021, mobile devices accounted for 54.4% of global website traffic.

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These numbers suggest that making your business accessible to mobile users is more crucial than ever. If not, your competitors taking advantage of mobile-friendliness will soon surpass you.

And the two primary ways to reach your customers on mobile channels are mobile apps and web apps.

While many people use these terms interchangeably, they’re very different. The primary difference between web and mobile applications is that the former needs to be downloaded and installed on the device. However, a web app can be accessed from a web browser.

Mobile app vs Web app

Another significant difference between the two is the cost of development. Mobile app development will cost you more than creating a web app for your business. But, again, they both have pros and cons.

This article will discuss the difference between web and mobile applications and their pros and cons. We will also discuss the alternative to mobile and web apps: progressive web apps.

Let’s dig right in.

What is a Mobile App?

Mobile apps are applications built to run on mobile devices. Mobile apps built for Android and iOS platforms are known as native apps. These apps work only on the platform it is designed for. On the contrary, hybrid mobile applications work on both Android and iOS.

Mobile apps allow users to interact with the business’s products and services using their smartphones. There are several types of mobile apps currently available.

However, to use mobile applications, you will need to download them from Play Store (for Android users) and App Store (for iPhone users).

What is a Web-based Application?

Web apps are self-sustaining software that runs on the web browser. Unlike mobile apps, you don’t need to download anything. You can use any device or browser to access web applications, irrespective of the underlying platform (Android or iOS).

The primary benefit of developing web apps is that they do not have to be custom-built for any platform or device, thereby reducing the overall development cost and efforts.

The most prominent examples of web-based applications are Office 365 from Microsoft and GSuite from Google. You can seamlessly access these apps on any device (computer, tablet, or mobile) and across browsers.

However, not to be confused with a mobile-responsive website, web applications are software with functionality and interactive elements.

Here are some quick differences between a website and a web-based application.

Website

Web-based Application

A website is a set of globally accessible, interlinked pages that can be accessed using a single domain name.A web-based application is a software program that can be accessed using a web browser.
The content is accessible to all visitors.Some content pieces are available only to authorized users.
Authentication is not mandatory, but you get an option to register/sign in.Most web apps require you to log in as they offer a broader range of services.
The website is a complete product in itself.Web apps are a part of the website and are not a complete product.
To make changes, you only need to modify the code.You will need to recompile the project completely and deploy it again to make changes.

Difference Between Web Application and Mobile Application

To summarize everything mentioned above, mobile apps are designed to run on smartphones. In contrast, web apps are built to run on any web browser.

Another difference between web and mobile applications is that the former requires an active internet connection to function, whereas mobile apps can allow you to complete basic tasks offline.

Progressive Web Apps

Also, mobile apps tend to operate faster than web apps. However, users will need to update the apps regularly to ensure optimum functionality, whereas web applications update themselves automatically.

Here is a tabular overview of the difference between web and mobile applications.

Web Application

Mobile Application

Cannot leverage all the hardware and features of the device’s operating system. For instance, you cannot send push notifications with web apps.Can take advantage of native mobile resources, such as camera, location, and contacts. You can send push notifications with mobile apps.
Updates and security patches are applied automaticallyUsers need to download the updates from Play Store
Doesn’t require users to download anythingRequires users to download the app
Lower development costsHigher development costs
There is no standard software development kit for developing web apps. Developers can use HTML, CSS, JS, and Python to build web apps.Depending on the platform you’re developing for, you can choose a software development kit. E.g., Android Studio for Android apps and iOS SDK for iOS apps.
Can be launched as soon as it is developed.Will be launched when the app store approves it. You will need to adhere to the app store’s guidelines to get approval.

Here’s an example of a web app and mobile app. When you install Yelp’s mobile app and access Yelp.com on your mobile browser, you’ll notice both are designed to look similar.

source: careerfoundry.com

Web Development vs. App Development

As mentioned above, the processes of developing mobile apps and web apps are different. The tools and languages you use might also differ.

For starters, mobile app development is more expensive than web app development. Also, it takes more time to develop a full-fledged mobile app.

How Are Mobile Apps Built?

Mobile applications are built using specific languages and integrated development environments (IDE). For instance, Android apps are written in Java and are developed using Android Studio or Eclipse IDE. iOS apps, on the other hand, are written in Objective-C or Swift and the Xcode IDE.

You can also create hybrid (cross-platform) mobile apps that work on Android and iOS. However, it is worth mentioning that hybrid apps usually have limited functionalities and slower performance than native apps.

How Are Web Apps Built?

Web apps are usually built using HTML, CSS, Python, and JavaScript. Unlike mobile apps, web apps don’t have any development kit. However, developers have access to templates, making it easier to develop web apps.

Read more: Web Development vs. Android Development

How is an API different from a Web Application?

A web application is something you see and interact with on a browser. However, a web API (application programming interface) is a service you use in a web application. Web applications are meant for human interaction, whereas web APIs are designed for system-to-system interaction.

Here is a table to help you better understand how an API is different from a web application.

Web Application

Web API

You can access it via a web browser.It is a system that allows two applications to talk to each other.
You can interact with it. For instance, you can log in, buy products, download files, etc.It only returns data. You cannot perform any tasks.

Web Applications vs. Mobile Applications: Pros and Cons

Now that you know the difference between web applications and mobile applications let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Advantages of Mobile Applications

  • Keeps you atop your customers’ minds
  • Works faster than web applications
  • Can function without internet
  • Highly safe and secure (as your app is approved by the app store only after you adhere to their security guidelines)
  • Helps gather valuable insights on how users access your services, their browsing behavior, and buying habits.
  • Allows you to interact with customers via push notifications.

Disadvantages of Mobile Applications

  • Getting the app approved by the app store can be challenging.
  • More expensive than building web apps.
  • You’ll need to develop two apps for Android and iOS (or choose a cross-platform app).
  • Maintenance and updates are costly.
  • Every time you make a sale through your app (in-app purchases), you’ll have to pay a commission to the app store.

Advantages of Web Applications

  • You don’t need to download or install them. They perform seamlessly on all platforms.
  • Easy to maintain as it has a single codebase regardless of the platform.
  • Does not require users to update it regularly. This saves a lot of storage space.
  • Quicker, easier, and cheaper to build than mobile apps.
  • Can be launched instantly as you don’t need approval from the app store.

Disadvantages of Web Applications

  • Requires an active internet connection to work.
  • Slower than mobile apps.
  • Less advanced than mobile apps.
  • Security might be an issue, especially if the developer hasn’t implemented additional security measures.

Benefits of PWAs

Mobile apps are right for you if you want to:

  • Take advantage of the phone’s hardware.
  • Attract new customers from the app store.
  • Be visible to customers all the time.
  • Create a direct marketing channel.
  • Cultivate customer loyalty.

Web apps are right for you if:

  • Have limited resources (budget, developers, etc.).
  • You want to launch your app quickly.
  • Need a highly customizable solution for your business.

How Your Web App and Mobile App Can Work Together?

You don’t necessarily have to pick between a mobile app and a web app. You can, in fact, leverage both together.

A mobile app will help you attract more customers via the app store and increase engagement via push notifications. On the other hand, a web app helps you enhance your SEO efforts, thereby boosting your online presence.

Some prominent examples include Netflix, Trello, and Basecamp. All these companies have both a mobile app and a web app.

Progressive Web Apps: The Perfect Alternative?

Progressive web apps (PWA) are the perfect middle-ground for web and mobile apps. They offer the properties of a mobile app but in a browser.

PWAs don’t require you to install or download anything to give you an idea. All you need to do is add it to your home screen. You can access PWAs without the internet. Also, they can be used across platforms without requiring developers to write different codebases.

Benefits of Progressive Web Apps

Here are some significant benefits of PWAs for businesses.

1. Fast and Reliable

Unlike web apps that rely heavily on internet speed, progressive web apps are lightweight and load instantly. Thanks to Service Workers, PWAs even support basic tasks without the internet.

The primary disadvantage of web apps is their slow performance. PWAs eliminate this issue as they don’t load faster, even on low bandwidth networks.

2. Native Web Experience Without Requiring to Download

Although mobile app downloads are increasing significantly, many people are reluctant to download apps that they might not use daily. The solution: PWA. They don’t require users to download or install anything while still providing a mobile app-like experience.

3. Lower Development Costs

Like web applications, PWAs use a single codebase and can be accessed on any platform. This reduces the costs and time associated with development. Besides, you don’t need approval from app stores, resulting in a faster launch. The updates and upgrades are also automatically downloaded, eliminating the hassle of updating it from the app store (in the case of mobile apps).

4. Leverage Hardware Features

Like mobile apps, PWAs also allows you to utilize mobile features like push notifications, offering you a new marketing and sales channel. You can also access other mobile resources, such as the camera and geolocation, to send location-specific promotional offers.

Here is an example of a progressive web app. Alibaba, the biggest B2-B ecommerce platform, has a high-performing PWA. You can browse and purchase products via the PWA without downloading anything.

6. Example of a PWA: Alibaba

Source: appsco.pe

Summing Up

A web app is accessible from a web browser and doesn’t require installation. It has limited functionalities and is slow compared to mobile apps. On the other hand, a mobile app requires users to download it from their respective app stores. However, it allows users to perform basic tasks without the internet and lets you offer hyper-personalized experiences.

And if neither of these fit your requirements, you can choose progressive web apps: the best of both worlds. PWAs offer mobile app-like performance but don’t require users to download it.

Have any questions? Shoot in the comments, and we will answer all your queries.

With more than two years of experience in writing, Rohit Rajpal has been helping brands improve their online presence with easy to understand content. When he is not writing, he's busy reading about digital marketing and copywriting. On the other side, he runs his own blog called Learn SEO Pro.

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