Realistically, this probably isn’t a question that you ask yourself every day. And you shouldn’t have to either. When you pick up your phone or device, you want a simple and seamless experience. As a user, you don’t need to think about how a product or service has been built, but how it’s made can have a pretty significant impact on its usability.
In this blog we take a look at the pros and cons of a native mobile application versus an in-browser mobile web experience. Each option has its own features and benefits, and you could do a very internet thing and argue for hours and hours over which is ‘best’, but as with most things tech, there’s always a use case. And that use case can be very specific depending on the audience, industry sector or device – factors that will vary wildly depending on the nature of the digital product itself and who you expect to be using it.
But let’s not make this too complicated. Let’s first look at two very simple and well-known examples.
Web App: Uber
The vast majority of Uber’s riders will be using the native app. But not everyone can. As the company expanded into newer markets, ones that were less developed, the web app was developed to sit alongside its native counterpart. The web app makes booking quick and easy for users on lower speed mobile networks. It also caters for users whose older smartphones may not be compatible with their latest app release. The web app, at only 50kb, loads within an impressive three seconds on a 2G network.
Native App: Instagram
In comparison to the seemingly sensible duality above, almost the entirety of Instagram’s user base interact with the service via its native app. Of course, you can access Instagram via a browser, but it’s a fairly basic experience with reduced functionality. The Instagram app is currently the world’s largest Django framework, with the product built entirely in Python. Of course, there are two ‘camps’ of Insta user – iOS and Android. However, the native approach is best suited for either platform as it allows far greater in-device functionality and it’s easier for the app to access system resources like photos, videos and the camera itself.
So what are the pros and cons to both? And are they really that black and white? Well, here’s a quick lowdown, plus a good example of when companies get it wrong.
- Better at utilising system services like cameras, Bluetooth and sensors
- An enclosed and ‘locked’ environment which theoretically makes it more secure
- More prestigious, often with unique UI and design elements giving it a strong, branded look
- Initial app payment and in-app purchases can drive a steady stream of revenue
- Easier to build due to the prevalence of developer tools, elements and SDKs
- More expensive to build than a web app – expertise usually at a higher premium
- Building for multiple platforms (Android and iOS) can push up cost and production time
- App maintenance and security updates need ongoing resource and support
- You are at the mercy of an app store, who will also take a cut of any generated income
- One app for every single thing that you like and use? Goodbye phone storage space
- With a more simple architecture, they are quicker and easier to build and update
- They are more universally written and are compatible with most browsers and devices
- A very efficient method for building and releasing a MVP (minimum viable product)
- No app store approval process or revenue sharing with app store owners
- No need for users to download the app, which means ease of use and wider accessibility
- Jump into a browser as and when you need a service. No phone chock-full of apps
- Fewer privacy concerns for the user – a web app has restricted access to your device and data
- They don’t work offline – an active internet connection is required
- Often less advanced in terms of speed and features
- Poor discoverability as there is no library or app store where they can be found
- Quality and security can be questionable as they are not governed by an app store
As with most discussions on the web, there really is no right or wrong answer. As we said earlier, there are use cases for either. More often that not, a native app is the way to go, but there are times when a web app could be a better option, or an additional option.
When users vote with their
Sometimes even the big guys get it wrong. In early 2019, many Twitter users who were dissatisfied with the native app experience switched to the web app. This is a pretty unique situation and a result of what were arguably failings of the app development team.
With third-party Twitter apps dwindling (largely due to authorisation token limits), and the official Twitter app laden with bugs, errors and problems, users turned to the nimble and lightweight web app – what is essentially a very nicely wrapped up HTML5 webpage. This ‘lite’ version of Twitter had no bloaty features, no erroneous notifications, no bulging cache, no bugs. Yet it still managed to deliver smooth animation, responsive load times and the best part for many privacy-conscious tweeters… no access or permission to your phone’s data. You can even add the ‘app’ to your home screen using a shortcut.
It’s a standalone case, though a great example of when users shunned the status quo and chose a semi-skimmed version over full fat, because it simply offered a better experience with more peace of mind.
87% of consumers' mobile time is spent in apps, versus just 13% spent on the mobile web.
Whilst we have our opinions at AndAnotherDay, we are pretty platform agnostic. We understand the pros and cons of native versus web, but we won’t force you into one over the other. Every digital product is unique in its goals, its features and its audience, and it’s only once we understand your brief and those goals that we’ll know what would work best for you.
Do you have an app on your drawing board? Is your current app not working out for you? Chat to us. We’d love to help.