Head-to-Head Comparison: Mobile Apps vs. Web Apps

Ted Kriwiel

Ted Kriwiel

What’s the difference between a mobile app and a web app? Why does it matter?

Everyone trying to solve a problem with custom software faces this question: Should we build a mobile app or a web app? The path you choose will have significant implications, so it’s important to have a basic understanding of the differences between the two.

Web interface and mobile app interface illustration

A simple definition of each:

Web Apps

Web applications are accessible through a browser on a computer, tablet or mobile device. Most will work on any modern browser like Chrome, Safari, or Firefox. Web apps are distinct from websites because they usually require a login and allow the end user to perform many complex actions. Websites are generally static and offer little functionality to the end user. Web apps are popular because they are device agnostic and easy to access through a URL.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps must be downloaded from an app store like the Apple App Store or Google Play. They are specifically designed for mobile devices and are popular because they offer powerful performance and a convenient experience for users that have downloaded the apps. Mobile apps surged in popularity under the Apple marketing campaign: “We have an app for that.”

How to compare them:

Obviously, neither one is better than the other, they simply provide different methods for reaching users. Let’s compare web apps and mobile apps across a few dimensions.

Access

One of the major benefits of a web app is the ease of access. The only thing needed for access is a link to the URL and you can reach this address from any device with a modern browser. Mobile apps have one additional barrier to access because you have to download the app from the app store.

Performance

While browser performance continues to dramatically improve, native apps developed for mobile devices outperform web apps in speed, processing power, and access to physical device components. This is especially important if the app you want to build will need to access the device’s camera, accelerometer, or bluetooth.

Development Complexity

If you choose to build a mobile app, you are immediately faced with the decision to build for ios (Apple) or android (Google) or BOTH! Android and ios are completely different frameworks and will require a development team with experience in each. If you decide to build for one or the other, you drastically limit the number of potential customers that your product can reach. Web apps are often seen as the simpler option because they only require one web development team and can reach nearly any device in the world!

Gatekeepers

One of the beautiful parts of building for the web is that there are no gatekeepers. Buy a domain and tell people to go there! If you accept payment, you can keep all the money. When building mobile apps, you will be faced with two gatekeepers: Apple and Google. They will require your app to be reviewed before it enters their app stores and will take 30% of any payments you receive. This has been derided as the Apple tax and is very controversial (Read more about the Apple tax here, here is another Apple tax controversy, and a third Apple tax controversy here). In the last few months, both Apple and Google have made concessions for smaller applications that reduce the percentage to 15% for apps generating less than $1,000,000 in revenue.

Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive comparison but at least a starting point for consideration. For us, at the end of the day, we want to build products that people use. This requires keeping things simple and ensuring that the product is available to the customers who want it. We generally lead people towards starting with web apps unless they have a compelling case for mobile apps or a performance requirement that makes a mobile app the stronger choice.

Whether for the web or mobile, software is a powerful way to streamline workflows. Read our case studies to see how Moonbase Labs equips our clients with digital tools to eliminate friction at the foundations of their work. Schedule a meeting to learn how we can help your organization increase its impact.

Mentions

Benny Bowden 🚀 liked on April 26, 2021

Nic Wentling liked on April 26, 2021

Benny Bowden 🚀 mentioned on April 26, 2021

Nine times out of ten, when someone requests a mobile app, we end up building a web application they love. They weren’t wrong, but simply unaware of the power of web technology. twitter.com/moonbaselabs/s…

Benny Bowden 🚀 mentioned on April 26, 2021

Nine times out of ten, when someone requests a mobile app, we end up building a web application they love. They weren’t wrong, but simply unaware of the power of web technology. twitter.com/moonbaselabs/s…

Startup Wichita liked on April 26, 2021

Kenneth Friedel liked on April 28, 2021

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