Written by Brad McElroy
We’ll go ahead and answer this question for you right now. It depends. Generally, most businesses begin with a website and then go into app development once they decide the features that are most important for their customers need to go mobile. Whether it needs to be easily shareable via a link for your marketing strategy, accessed on smartphone and desktop, or if it requires smartphone-enabled features, a website and an app are made with a specific purpose in mind. When 42% of all online usage comes from mobile devices, there’s no doubt that you need to at least have one or the other. So, before you go all in on app development or web development, read on to see which one (or why both) take the championship belt for your business in this showdown.
Easy, right? It’s just an app on a phone. Well, that’s partially correct. When it comes to app vs. website, it does depend on how you’re accessing it. Native apps are specifically made for your device, whether that’s an iPhone, Android, or the latest smart fridge on the market (yes, someone gets paid to do that). Web apps are created for you to access via an internet browser, which is basically just a mobile version of your website. No matter what device you’re viewing it from, it’s generally capable of fitting to your screen and functions smoothly. So, why do you even need a native app if a web app can do the same thing? Because that’s not entirely true. Here’s why.
Mobile apps live and run on a specific device. As a result, they’re generally more responsive, faster, and more efficient than web apps because they’re designed specifically for that platform. They can also use features specific to your device thanks to the app design. Think of any popular social media app. Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook can all access your camera — if you let them. And if you have your location enabled in your settings, you can usually get access to location-specific features. Snapchat often designs filters for specific cities and events, and you can tag your location on Instagram without having to mention it in the caption, which is a huge boost for anyone in digital marketing.
Additionally, think of Uber without GPS. It wouldn’t be nearly as convenient without a transparent location-sharing experience. It’s all possible because it was created as an app with this specific feature in mind. Try getting your web page to have the same functionality. You may cause a web developer’s head to explode. Although you can get web apps to access smartphone features, it’s going to always be better optimized and provide a better experience on a native app versus a web app.
If your business requires information to be delivered in real time, then an app is probably the way to go here as well. Although web apps have push notifications, they can only do so to your desktop or laptop. Push notifications with your native mobile app is a great way to boost engagement and communicate important information instantly. You can also relay rewards, special offers, promotions, and more, all without requiring the user to open an email or visit your site. It’s all right there, right in front of them on their smartphone (or smart fridge). After all, it’s all about that sweet, sweet conversion rate, and customers who can take advantage of your limited time offer with a single tap are more likely to do so because it requires minimal effort on their part.
Lastly, one of the more important features of native apps is the ability for them to function offline. Apps centered around GPS navigation, medical assistance, and even banking can and should have offline modes created. Even if the entirety of your service can’t be accessed offline, having some core functionality available can prevent customers from uninstalling in case they aren’t always connected to the internet. For instance, Google Maps lets you download a map for offline navigation, and BBC News gives you the ability to access the latest news available at the time you went offline. If you want to stay connected to your customers at all times, even when they aren’t, we can’t think of a better way than a native app.
We all know what a website is. You happen to be on one right now. But what are the benefits of strictly going with a website or web app versus a native app?
Well, for one, it’s much cheaper — for the most part. You still have to pay for web hosting, graphic design, and content creation, but in general, you’re going to save money if you build a website instead of an app. Native app development requires additional time partly because it doesn’t always have templates or plugins to rely on in its construction, resulting in a higher cost. Additionally, if you want a lot of features available, these need to be specifically designed for that platform to function smoothly. Think of it like having three apps in one, if you’re wanting something that iPhone, Android, and Windows phone users can access. If you roll out one new feature, you’re going to need to do three times the work. With a website, you only do it once. Scoreboard, web.
Websites can also be much easier to create, maintain, and update than native apps. One issue with apps is that a user may not have the latest version installed, causing them to encounter bugs or issues that you have already fixed. A frustrating experience is certainly one way for someone to disengage with your brand or business and uninstall an app. But on a website, you can push updates in real time for a uniform experience across your audience.
Although sometimes you can break it. As long as you pay your hosting fees, you can live forever online. Customers can delete an app from their phone, but good luck trying to do that to your website. Besides, even if a customer isn’t returning to your website every day, your digital marketing efforts can always grab users new and old when you have relevant information or promotions to share with them.
To add to that last point, websites are much easier to share. Native apps are restricted to mobile only, while websites can have visitors from desktops, laptops, mobile devices, and tablets. It can also be very difficult to establish enough brand loyalty for a customer to download an app. In fact, according to Ajay Kapur, CEO of Moovweb, 84% of users are only using 5 apps. That’s a hard rotation to crack. However, those users may be more likely to visit your website to see if the services you provide are right for them before going all in on downloading an app.
The great answer is both. Eventually. Depending on your business, it might make more sense to start with a website and web app to determine the features you’d actually need to include on a native app. However, if you’re finding users are visiting you 5 or 6 times a day, requiring smartphone-enabled features like camera access or GPS navigation to experience your service or brand, then an app may be your best choice. The good thing is that no matter which one you think you need, we can help you decide and help you build it.