We have seen this case multiple times at STRV and would like to shed some light on how you can better select the platform for your next application.
Though businesses of various sizes might have different needs — which can affect the native vs. web question — we will discuss the topic using the scenario of building a completely new digital product from scratch.
What Is the Difference Between a Native Mobile App and a Web App?
Native mobile apps run directly on your mobile device — iOS or Android — after being downloaded from the respective app store. These types of apps are written in native programming languages such as Kotlin or Swift, or frameworks in different languages that allow creating native applications, like React Native.
Web apps run on your web browser — either on a desktop or a mobile device — and are accessed via an internet connection. Applications of this type are programmed by using web technologies such as React or Next.js and connecting them to other services — third-party or in-house as an API.
Native mobile apps and web apps can look really similar in part because most modern web applications are responsive (adapt to the size of the browser), the latter requires an active internet connection to be able to function, while the native application can work offline.
One exception would be progressive web apps (PWAs); however, for the sake of clarity, we will only cover native and web apps. If you’d like to know more about PWAs, take a look at the five key benefits they offer.
How Your Business Objectives Affect the Solution
The nature of your digital product is a deciding factor for going the native mobile or web app route. Aside from technological reasons, a lot depends on the following questions:
- How should the product solve user needs?
- Where and when will it be used?
- How often is data being updated?
- What type of information is being used?
Answering these questions functions as the scaffolding of your decision-making — but there may be more criteria that, while not directly tied to the native/web question, are still worth considering.
Some examples would be your users' preferred device choice (based on the market you’re targeting) or if your reason for building a new app is to open a new channel of acquisition by going mobile and expanding your offerings.
Let’s dive into the four cases we’ve pinpointed that help make an educated decision.
There are limitations when it comes to browsers being able to access your device hardware. Although there has been huge progress in using a browser to access certain features of your device functionalities (such as location or camera), other hardware (like NFC) works better using system resources.
If your business idea requires using device system features or hardware, then it’s clear that the path to follow is native mobile. A great example of this would be a payment app where you need to access the NFC technology on a device or if you simply need biometric authentication for increased security.
On the other hand, if your software does not require any native functionalities, the decision to go native mobile or web can be determined by other conditions.
Where your app will be primarily used can tilt the scale in a specific direction. Understand your customers. Are they on the move?
If you expect your users to primarily use the app from an office — think a business management app — then they will most likely be using it while working on their laptops. This means that you can offer limited functionality adapted to mobile devices, since your main platform will probably be desktop-focused.
In the opposite case, if your users need to have the app on-hand in their pockets because the need for your product doesn’t necessarily happen in a static scenario — for instance, using it to get a ride home or to find a date — then they will need a native mobile app, to have it available at any time.
Having a business that requires constant availability to updated information on your app is a very different case than an app that allows users to go completely off-grid while still having the app fully functional.
If your app needs constant connectivity so it can be updating information based on availability or updates on the server — as is the case for a marketplace — then there’s no clear choice between native and web, since both platforms can serve this purpose. You need to look at other decisive factors.
However, if you want to provide offline access to the app, then native apps provide an easier solution for storing that data on the device’s local storage — making the app’s functionalities available when users have their devices in airplane mode or have limited internet access.
Type of Information
While the displayed information can be highly influenced by the design and user experience of your app, the type of information that should be available to your users on a single screen can move the needle towards one choice or another.
If you need to display large amounts of information to your users, or if they should be able to manipulate it on the app, going with a web app makes more sense since it allows for the display of information on a bigger screen. Some examples of such cases are canvas-heavy apps (Figma, Miro, Google Slides), dashboards for data (PowerBI, Datadog) or dashboards for users (any CRM app).
When you have smaller amounts of information to display and to be manipulated, or if the data can be better structured and doesn’t need to be available in a single glance, mobile apps perfectly meet that need without compromising the user experience.
In Conclusion: The Right Answer Depends on the Needs
Both platforms have their pros and cons depending on the type of app you’ll be bringing to market and which functionalities it should have. Hopefully, this article will help you make a better choice when it comes to the right technology and platform for your upcoming project or digital product.If you have an app idea — be it a web or mobile app — we’re here to help you develop it. Reach out to chat about it and see how we can help you.