Native mobile app / web app or responsive

Native mobile app / web app or responsive


At AFX we spend so much time working on our client’s projects that we seldomly have time to update our own website, let alone work on some in-house projects. However, with Cowes Week being on our doorstep we decided that this year we would create a web app for Cowes week. Whilst it has been invigorating working on a project with less decision makers, it has also been a real eye-opener into the challenges of creating apps aimed at the right audience and how best to make it accessible to them.

There is no doubt that the internet market has expanded into the mobile sphere, and that due to the limitations of the handset in screen and component size, they require a tailored experience. There are currently lots of buzz words going around, from responsive, to native apps, to web apps. In this article I will talk about the differences and advantages of each, and conclude with how I believe businesses should be looking into the mobile future.

Responsive websites

When researching into this article, I found that many authors were split on whether or not a responsive website is an alternative to a native/web app.

Responsive is simply a new set of web standards which can be adopted to create websites that are able to tailor their look and feel to the user’s viewing device. For example, if you look at on your laptop or desktop you will notice that it looks like a standard site. View it on your phone and it will adapt, making the content easier to read on the phone, and introducing hide-able navigation.

With 48% of the UK population in 2013 predicated to use the internet on their mobile, there is no doubt that all website owners should ensure that their website is responsive. In some respects it is not an alternative to a web app, it is a must for every website.

Although all websites should in time become responsive, the standards used can also be applied to a web-based app which is built using the same technologies as websites i.e. HTML/CSS and Javascript.

So what’s the difference between an app and a website?

Apps provide a solution to very specific content and usability needs. For example, an downloadable daily newspaper works effectively as an app as the developers are able to create an experience customised specifically to finding and reading stories. Likewise, a weather app would provide instant access to information that the user is likely to want to lookup frequently.

An app does not replace a website, but should complement it by offering a more specialist service. Often an app would provide device-related features such as use of the camera, GPS, and even the contact list. As a keen mountaineer I have found apps which provide ordnance survey grid references of your current location, or avalanche awareness information, with a feed from the Scotland Avalanche Service and the use of the gyroscope to measure slope angle to predict the risk of an avalanche – websites would not be able to do this.

Unlike websites, app development is not cheap as the skills required to build apps are higher. Because of this, considering engaging an agency to develop an app should not be taken lightly. However, with the right idea you can add a very successful asset to your business.

Web app vs native app

A web-based app utilises the same technologies as websites in order to supply an app that can be run on most mobile devices in their browser. A native app is built specifically for a device in its native language, and is often available in their respective app stores such as Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, and Blackberry World.

The main advantage of a web app over a native app is its ability to run across multiple devices. Creating a native app for multiple platforms is a significant investment which many small businesses could not afford.

A major advantage of native apps is that they are able to access all the features the device has to offer, and continue to work when not connected to the internet. These features are often harder to access or are unaccessible from a web-based environment. For some apps this means that a web-based app is not a viable option.

There are tools which allow you to develop on a single code base and then compile the app to multiple platforms such as Apache Cordova, however general feedback on this is that as an intermediate option they are okay, but the apps often feel less responsive then truly native apps.

Looking forward

Whilst it is advisable that every website owner should have a responsive website, it does not mean that they need an app. Apps at the moment receive a higher interest than normal due to the new features that phones are offering and the more readily available internet connection. This will settle down as users begin to assert their authority on the level of quality they are looking for, and the novelty factor will die out. Because of this, apps should be well thought out like any good business idea.

For example:

If you think you have a good idea for an app and can answer the above questions confidently, then I suggest you have a chat with us to see how we might be able to make your app a reality.

Please recommend us if you found this article helpful:
Anthony Luxton
Anthony Luxton

7th August, 2013


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