Web Apps vs Native Mobile Apps: Which Should You Choose?

Web Apps vs Native Mobile Apps: Which Should You Choose?

It’s important that you understand the distinctions between web apps and native mobile apps before starting a new app project - it will massively influence your strategy, budget and overall outcome.

Written by Matt Allen

7 min read

At first glance a native mobile app and a web app can look like the same thing, but there are also differences between the two. It’s important that you understand the distinctions before jumping onto a new app project because it will have a big influence on your strategy, budget and overall outcome. Here we talk about each one in more detail so that you’re better informed when you take your next steps.

In short, web apps and native mobile apps can be exactly the same if required, but they don’t necessarily serve the same purpose, and they don’t have to offer the same user experience.

A web app

A web app is delivered to a device over the Internet, so it’s accessible straight from your user’s browser - as long as they’re connected. Since web apps are built responsively, they can be used from any device or operating system.

If the design is seamless and the functions work properly, a web app has the potential to offer excellent user experience, even if it’s not quite as efficient as a native mobile app. And since it’s built using Javascript, CSS and HTML5, it’s a fast and cost-effective building process. Top-notch technical maintenance will be an ongoing priority to ensure that intended functionality remains intact.

Remember, you’ll have to ensure your consumers are aware that you have a web app, since they won’t see it while browsing through their Google Play or App Store. Pay careful attention to your traffic and conversion paths and enhance your marketing strategy to make sure your audience is using your web app to its full potential.

A native mobile app

Native mobile apps are designed and built separately for different operating systems like iOS or Android. Users download these apps straight onto their phone from distribution platforms like Google Play or the Apple App Store - and Google Instant apps now removes the requirement to download from the Play store.

Mobile apps can work online or offline (depending on the app itself and the functional requirements at hand) and often also makes use of other system resources on the device like camera, voice recorder, contact list, GPS and so on.

They’re built using specific languages: previously Objective-C and Java, with modern developers using Swift and Kotlin, making use of different integrated development environments (Xcode IDE for Apple and Android Studio for Android) and software development kits. More time is required to understand the tooling and can take a lot more time and resources to build.

They’re more efficient than web apps in terms of speed, convenience and advanced features and functionality - as long as the user downloads all necessary updates when they’re made available!

Conversion rates on native apps are significantly higher compared with other platforms, according to Venn Apps and industry market analysts such as Criteo.

Mobile apps offer better security for your users, since any app must be approved by the distribution platform before it’s made available for the public to download. This adds more time to the process, but is ultimately more trustworthy for the user.

Native Apps in ecommerce

Why have a native app for your ecommerce store?

  • The world is moving to mobile with 64% of retailer’s traffic mobile
  • Mobile now accounts for over 50% of online sales
  • These figures are increasing year on year!

Why is the trend happening?

  • Progression of mobile technology
  • Advancements in development technologies such as mobile first/headless
  • Better internet connections

Conversion rates on mobile websites are notoriously poor!

  • In Europe, conversion rates on native shopping apps are 3 times higher than mobile web (Criteo)
  • Average basket sizes are up to 60% higher on native apps vs mobile web (Criteo)

Why do native apps convert the best?

  • Constant home screen presence - reminds customers they are there; quick to access
  • App real estate
  • Performance
  • Hardware acceleration
  • Offline loading and caching

Harness the phone's native capabilities

  • Apple/Google Pay
  • Personalised push notifications (Abandoned cart, shipping updates, special offers etc)

Can you tell the difference?

Earlier we mentioned that web apps and mobile apps don’t always offer the same purpose or experience. Let’s look at LinkedIn as an example:

Here are two screenshots of Eastside Co’s About section. Can you tell which one is which?

While the design elements are consistent, it’s very difficult to verify at first glance that image one is the mobile app and image two is the web app.

Just because web apps are cheaper and easier to build and maintain, does not make them less important or of poorer quality. The speed of the website app is just as fast as the mobile app, push notifications are possible and the functionality is without fault.

The biggest difference lies in the features that both offer. Mobile apps are still more advanced, and so a few things are excluded from the web apps. Here are two good examples that will help you understand the difference in more detail:

Search is limited

The mobile app allows you to filter your search via people, jobs, contents, companies, schools etc., while the web app does not - it merely has content in the search bar to remind users of the possible categories. It may not offer the full function, but at least it assists the user, improves user-friendliness and enhances overall experience.

Comfortability is compromised

You can still write a post on a web app, and on that post you can celebrate a teammate, attach a photo, attach a document or add a video. But it’s not as comfortable to do from a web app because the design is different.

Mobile apps offer more instruction that entices you with its presence. Only once the user closes the menu on the mobile app will it reflect the same sort of menu layout as the slightly less user-friendly web app version.

The bottom line is, if you don’t have the budget to build your own mobile app immediately, you can still work wonders with a web app, especially for your ecommerce store.

Online vs offline native mobile apps

A good example of everyday native mobile apps are Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Uber and Google Maps. These are the sort of mobile apps that provide full functionality when connected to the internet, but have certain features that may work offline.

For example, if you search for a specific location on Google Maps, the directions and navigation will download automatically and the app will guide you to your destination while you are offline. This helps you save on data and will ensure that you can reach your destination safely even if you disconnect from the internet or drive through an area with bad signal. In other words, “GPS signal lost” is no longer something you’ll hear while driving!

Uber also has the ability to work from your mobile if your network connection is off, but your functionality will decrease. For example, if you confirm your ride and your driver is en route, you can leave your Wi-Fi zone and wait in the street without internet connection. Your driver will still find you and your trip can be completed while you are disconnected, but you won’t be able to track his trip while he is on his way or use the in-app messaging system. It’s not ideal, but sure helps when you need it!

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will only work to an extent without internet connection. You will be able to scroll through your feed and view posts based on what was already loaded while you were connected to the internet, but you won’t be able to refresh your feed or upload your own content.

This power can be harnessed in ecommerce - making certain functionality accessible to the user even when not connected to the internet so they can continue to browse or add to bsket, for example, with transactions completed when the connection is restored.

Some native mobile apps don’t need internet access at all and will function with its intended purpose while you are offline. Let’s take Sleep Booster for example. It’s an app that tracks your sleep by looking at your sleep schedule, voice tracking, sleep duration and sleep debt. It also enhances your sleep quality by providing a ‘sleep ritual’ function that helps with breathing, meditation and calming sounds. All of these functions will work while you are offline.

As you can see in the images above, there are many instances where users have to pay for native mobile apps in order to access its full functionality. If the app is free, there’s a big chance that in-app advertising is part of the package. Another example of paid mobile (and desktop) apps are Spotify and YouTube Premium – which can both be accessed offline and enjoyed without ad interruption.

If you build a paid-for app, it’s important that you include enticing or quirky elements in the free version to keep users engaged and motivate them to become paid subscribers. Let’s go back to Sleep Booster as an example.

If you use the free version, you still have access to some of the features like alarm clock, heart-rate checks, wake up challenges, a dream interpretation book and more. Plus, every day, you receive a push notification updating you on new content posted on their insights section. This offers very brief but entertaining content pieces that teaches you more about studies done on sleep and other fun facts. There is the potential for capitalising on additional revenue streams utilising in-app purchases and subscriptions.

Online vs offline native mobile apps in ecommerce

Today users, particularly younger audiences, are detectives. They like to really discover a brand and it’s product before making purchases.

The offline caching and hardware acceleration associated with native apps enables shoppers to efficiently browse and filter large product catalogues when they are on the move.

Progressive web apps

Of course, because of continuing digital and technological evolution, a ‘native-web hybrid’ exists, presenting business owners with the opportunity to build a web app with some of the advanced features and functionality that a mobile app has, creating a complete app-like experience.

These are called progressive web apps (PWAs) and they have become increasingly popular over the past five years because they offer increased performance, faster loading time and the AppCache feature. Even though they don’t tick all the boxes of a native mobile app, they have significant strengths:

They create an even more engaging mobile experience More affordable to build and maintain than a mobile app You can set up push notifications to maintain strong engagement Users can access certain features while offline or in an area with poor network Users don’t have to download (or pay for) an app to make use of features

Here at Eastside Co we build advanced PWAs using Vuejs.

Check out some of the best progressive web apps that are available today – many of which function perfectly for ecommerce purposes!

What to do next

Choosing between web, mobile or hybrid app development will require you to weigh up a lot of different pros and cons, and consider a number of different factors like business needs, app requirements, developer skills, budget and timeline. Technology is continuously progressing at a rapid rate, so deciding how exactly you are going to push your company forward into digital evolution, while remaining within your budget and requirements, can get a little tricky. We’re always here to help you develop your business strategy and will guide you through the best solutions for your ecommerce store. Give us a call to get started!

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