Is there a clear winner?
With so many of us glued to our mobile devices, it's no real wonder that even Google has acknowledged that being mobile friendly is essential. However, being accessible on a user's device doesn't always mean just having a mobile friendly website. This leads to the question of whether you should be creating a native mobile app or relying on a responsive web app.
What is a native mobile app and what is a responsive web app?
A native mobile app is, as you might expect, an app that is specifically designed for your mobile device. All of the apps you download from the App Store or Google Play and install directly onto your device are considered native apps. That's because they're created specifically for that mobile platform. Some examples of native mobile apps are Instagram, Tinder, and many games.
A responsive web app, on the other hand, is an app that works within a browser. Being responsive means that it can adapt to fit any device, whether it's the larger screen of a desktop computer or the small screen of a smartphone. With cross-browser compatibility, it can run in whichever browser the end user is viewing it in. Some examples of responsive web apps are Google Docs, HootSuite, and eBay.
Why use a native mobile app?
The big benefit of a native mobile app is that the user doesn't need to be connected to the internet to use it. It will also use the device's processor, which can speed up the response time within the app. Native apps can also be designed to pull information from other parts of the device, such as GPS, contacts, or a camera.
All of this can mean that the user has a streamlined experience. They simply open the app, wherever they are. There's no need to be somewhere with a good mobile or data signal, or connected to a Wi-Fi network. This makes it a great option for applications like games and social networks.
The drawbacks of a mobile app are generally related to cross-platform compatibility. Apps specifically designed for iPhones won't work on Android, and vice versa. The need for different versions of the app for each operating system can add to development costs. However, services like PhoneGap make it possible to compile native mobile apps for multiple platforms.
Why use a responsive web app?
Responsive web apps have the benefit of being usable from any device. This often makes them a better option for applications such as CRM Systems or bespoke enterprise software, which will be frequently accessed from a range of devices and browsers. In this respect, a web app works like any other piece of software your business might use. The only difference is that it runs from inside a browser.
Responsive web apps can be a good choice when you don't need to utilise any of the built-in capabilities of a mobile device, and don't expect to need to use the app offline. It also removes the need to have individual user licenses for the app. This makes them a good choice for things like booking platforms and delivery tracking services. By being responsive, they can be used on a smartphone or other mobile device, but they can also be used just as easily from a computer. Both iOS and later versions of Android also allow you to create icons on the home screen of your device which launch the mobile app in a similar way that you would launch native apps.
Which is better?
While native mobile apps do offer a lot of benefits over a web app, there's not necessarily one right answer that fits every use. The reality is that it really does depend on what you want the app to do, and how the app will be used. If you want the app to be available to everyone, regardless of their device, a responsive web application might be for you. If you want the app to make use of smartphone features and be available offline, a native mobile app might be a better choice.
Of course, you don't need to choose between them. When you work with a company that can create bespoke applications for you, you can have both native mobile apps and responsive web apps.
We want to hear from you….
We would be really interested to hear your feedback and experiences with native and / or responsive web applications, so please feel free to join the discussion.
If you are interested in exploring your project options (including approach and pricing) then please feel free to get in touch.