16 November 2021
  • Development

Should I Build a Web Application or Mobile Application?

Choosing between web and mobile application development are two very different things. They translate into different user experiences, deployment, and development. One is optimised for web browsers and the other for mobile devices. One is better suited for simple tasks while the other is better for more complex operations. 

However, that doesn’t mean one is superior or inferior. They are simply different solutions to problems that businesses have to deal with regularly. Let’s take a look at what it takes to build both and why you might choose one over the other.  

What Are The Requirements for Web and Mobile Application Development? 

You can find excellent web apps and mobile apps online for nearly everything. For example, Google Docs work well on both web browsers and your smartphone. The Amazon app is just as fully featured on your mobile device as it is on your desktop. However, the two versions of these applications are not built the same way and there are subtle differences between them. Let’s see what goes into app development, starting with mobile.  

Building a Mobile App 

How to build a mobile app

Generally speaking, mobile apps are more expensive to build than web apps since they are built for a specific platform, such as iOS or Android. Web apps can run on any machine which has an internet browser. 

That being said, while mobile apps can be costly, optimisation for a specific platform can make mobile apps extremely fast and fluid. 

Platform SDKs

Android apps use Java or C++. iOS uses Swift or Objective-C. This means that coding for different platforms means adapting to different coding languages. Several apps have often been released on one platform months before they make it to the other. The same goes for updates to those apps. Due to the fragmentation and customisation of Android for various companies (Samsung, OnePlus, Mi, etc.) delays can last longer. 

Hybrid Apps/Web View

Hybrid apps can give you the best of both worlds. Web and native OS app functionality is combined in these apps. This is achieved by using a mobile app to function using the platform’s WebView. This is a mini web browser which can be configured to run as a full screen app, all while taking advantage of some key features like GPS, push notifications and offline storage.

Offline Work

A great feature of mobile apps is that mobile device users can use them without the internet. Even if these apps specifically require internet access, they can save any data entered while offline for later. Then, when connectivity resumes, the apps can update the cloud. 

This is something sorely absent within web apps. Even if you save work offline, it can be partially or completely lost unless connectivity resumes before a session ends. 

Building a Web App

How to build a web application

Think of web apps as complex websites with a wider range of functions. Web apps often allow users to log in and interact with the platform. Your local butcher has a website, whereas Facebook is a web app – there’s a lot more to it! 

Let’s take a look at how web apps are built. 

No SDKs Required 

Web apps are built to run on browsers like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Safari and Firefox. Hence, they’re usually not SDK specific. The web apps we build at Steadfast Collective tend to be built on Laravel (PHP), Vue.JS, CSS and HTML.

There are no delay releases caused by app stores since web apps don’t have to go through approvals. Web apps can be updated and deployed to the world instantly.

Web apps can of course work on your mobile devices too, within the built in browser. Often the experience you receive within a web app is exactly the same as the mobile app equivalent. 

Browser Tweaks and Advancements Improve App User Experience 

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) take advantage of browser advancements to tweak web apps so they act more like mobile apps. 

This way, mobile browsers can make the most of features such as offline storage, push notifications and background sync. 

Mobile Apps vs. Web Apps 

Mobile application vs web application

Now that we know what it takes to build both web and mobile applications, let’s compare the benefits and drawbacks.

These are generalisations and shouldn’t be taken as gospel for every single app or version.

Choosing between mobile and web application development

Conclusion

As you can see, both web and application development have their pros and cons.

Our general advice is, unless your idea relies on a native mobile app, start with a web app and add the mobile apps further down the line.

A web app can often give your users everything they need from your product, on both desktop and mobile devices, without the additional resources required to build mobile apps.

You could even use that budget you’ve just saved, to focus on growing your community.

Each business and application brief is different. If you are unsure whether your community requires a web app or mobile app, get in touch with us to discuss your options. We have a wealth of experience building both web and mobile apps that bring people together online. 

It might be that in an introductory Problem Framing Workshop, we can work out the best development strategy for your individual customer base.

Pete Heslop

Managing Director at Steadfast Collective, Pete's key focus is on building a team of smart creatives who build community-focused web applications.

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