Native apps vs. Web apps: which one is best for your business?

If you are embarking on an exploration to determine how best to enter your business into the mobile arena (or want to know if what you’ve already done was the right choice), one of the first considerations is whether to choose native application development, Web application development, or both.With mobile technology rapidly advancing and the public’s mobile presence increasing along with it, a strong first step in the right direction could make a big difference, both to you and to your customers.What’s the difference between native apps and Web apps?Native apps are designed and developed for specific mobile operating systems, such as Symbian, Android, Blackberry and iOS. Each operating system is used on various mobile devices and can install apps directly onto a device. These native apps then run using the mobile device’s operating system. Native apps are available through mobile marketplaces and can be downloaded from the Web.Web apps are designed and developed to function within a Web browser and are not device-specific. Any mobile device that has a Web browser can view and interact with Web apps, and they do not need to be installed onto a device.The finer pointsDifferences between native apps and Web apps, though they do exist, can often be blurred or insignificant, so it is important to consider the finer points when formulating your plan for going mobile with your business.Memory space: Because native apps are installed on your mobile device, most of the resources they use (text, images, video, audio, etc.) will also be stored on your mobile device, eating up a small portion of your device’s memory space. The more native apps you install, the less space you will have available, and it’s possible that you would eventually run out of memory space.Web apps, on the other hand, live on a remote server, and you simply interact with them through a browser. Like native apps, Web apps also contain text, images, video and audio, but because they are pulled from a remote source, the mobile device’s browser will limit how much of your device’s memory space is taken up by Web resources. You could conceivably visit an unlimited number of Web apps without ever running out of memory space.Application speed: Based on the previous point, native apps tend to perform faster precisely because they are pulling most of the required resources directly from your mobile device, whereas Web apps may perform slower, since they must download content to your mobile device before you can view it.This difference depends heavily on the type of application being run because Web transfer speeds are often only slightly longer. If your application includes essential videos or images that would require long download times through the Web, then a native app might be preferred. If your application does not include large images, videos, or audio files, then you could reasonably choose either native apps or Web apps.Connectivity: By nature, native apps have most of their resources stored directly on a device, but they can also pull data or content through a device’s network connection. Conversely, Web apps have most of their resources stored on a remote server, but they can also store data or content directly on a device.This difference seems to be a toss-up, given that both have the capability of functioning offline when there is no network connection available. If your application does need to work offline, this is an important consideration during the Web app development process.
Interface: Each mobile operating system has its own standards for how user interfaces are arranged and displayed (colors, sizes, etc.). Native apps adhere to the standards of a mobile operating system, while Wapps can have any design or style desired.Features: Native apps can leverage built-in capabilities of a mobile device, such as a camera, geolocation, motion and orientation. These features are not automatically available to Web apps. However, frameworks are emerging that allow Web apps to tap into a mobile device’s built-in features.The debate over native apps versus Web apps is significant because the mobile device landscape is constantly changing as new products are released, new features are introduced, and new technologies are discovered. For most businesses, having the greatest accessibility to all of their customers is a top priority, which tends to point toward Web apps as the solution that is most accommodating to all customers rather than toward native apps, which cater only to those who have a specific mobile device. This is not to say that mobile Web apps are always better – you must carefully consider the mobile application you are planning to build, what its purpose is, who the target audience is, and how it will be best utilized.Deb Brewer, president of YellowFrog Web & Mobile Productivity and CrystalVision Web & eMarketing Solutions, Waltham, Mass., and Portsmouth, can be reached at 603-433-9559 or