Do you need a web app or a native app?

You need to know the difference between a web app and a native app before you know what you really need.


We’re in a time and place where lots of businesses feel they want (or need) to develop an app  – mobile application. There are two main types: Web apps and Native apps. Before we get started reviewing the benefits that these two different types of apps can bring to your business, let’s take a look at what these apps are.

Native apps

A native app is developed for a mobile device – phone, tablet or both, and can be directly downloaded onto the device itself. Native apps can be downloaded directly from the Apple App Store or Google Play. There’s not really a limit to what a Native app can do because it’s been designed specifically to use your device technology. For example, Pokémon Go is a native app that uses your mobile phone’s GPS service and location settings. These features of your phone are critical for the app’s use.

Web apps

Think of web apps more like quick-action website shortcuts. A web app accesses the internet via your mobile device’s web browser, such as Safari or Google Chrome. Many of the world’s airports use web apps to provide airport users with a device-friendly interface that provides a shortcut directly to arrivals/departures, transport etc. The web browsers on your device are actually web apps.

It’s really not the end users of the app that notices the difference and to be honest, lots of apps appear to work in the same way – delivering information to you.  The development process of these apps is where the biggest difference lies.

Developing your app

In the case of a native app, each mobile platform that your app is developed for uses a different programming language. For example, iOS uses Objective-C, Android devices use Java and Windows mobile uses C++. If you want your Native app to work across the three major operating systems, you’re essentially building three different apps. There are other solutions that allow you to “wrap your web app” and still submit to your device’s store. So it mimics a native app, an example of this tool is PhoneGap.

The app development process for a web app involves the same programming language that many websites rely on: JavaScript, HTML 5, CSS3 and a range of other languages that are pretty commonly used.

A native app might take longer to develop, but from a user perspective is usually faster to use and more efficient in terms of battery and data usage. If you’re in a hurry to get that app up and running, a web app could be a better choice, but be prepared to compromise on speed.

A final point related to app development is standardisation. The programming languages that a native app uses are unique to each device’s mobile platform and they come with a ready-made, standardised Software Development Kit (SDK), which guides Native app developers through the rules and app design guidelines that will work best for that platform.

With web apps, there is much greater freedom, but downside of that freedom is that it’s harder to know what is going to work best. Working with experienced web app developers is going to provide big benefits here in terms of time and money saved fixing bugs and errors.


What do you want your app to do? Will it rely on your device settings, such as location? Will your app need to use the device camera, in the way that Skype or Snapchat does?  When a native app is developed it’s easy to ensure that it’s compatible with the device’s hardware and standard features.

With a web app, there is a limit to how many device functions and features it can use. But there are a huge range of handy apps that don’t rely on any other function of your phone other than an internet browser.

Budgeting for your App

The upfront costs of app development are not the only costs involved. This brings us to another big difference between a Native app and a Web app: updates.

A native app will need to be updated to fix problems, announce new features and maintain security. This requires the user to actively update the app. Web apps update themselves, they just need internet access.

Regarding maintenance, native apps can end-up more costly, again because you will need to maintain each version of its device-specific software. The web apps all share the same programming language, regardless of device.

Still confused about which app is going to be best for your business? iFactory is home to some of the best app developers in Brisbane as well as a team of digital specialists who deliver digital strategy and design solutions across a wide range of industries. If you need to talk about apps, contact us today.

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