Development

Web Apps, Mobile Apps, and Progressive Apps: choosing the right platform for your app

Deborah Sauvé

Web apps, native mobile apps, progressive apps, oh my! In this article we will explore how to choose the right platform to build your custom app on.

So you have a great idea for a new app!  You see a hole in the market, or an amazing problem you can solve with just a few clicks.  Eureka!  So where do you start?

The first step to building an app is understanding what type of app you should build.  Do you need to be able to access it from a desktop computer at work?  Will the app need offline access?  Will you need to access the GPS on a user’s phone to find them?  Is sensitive data being uploaded that needs to be stored securely?  In the below article, we will go over all of these questions to help you determine what type of app will best serve the functionality of your idea.

The three main types of applications are Web Apps, Native Mobile Apps (iOS and Android), and Progressive Web Apps.  Some businesses build for all three (like Facebook, which can be accessed from a web browser or mobile app on any type of device), while other apps may only build for one (like SnapChat, which is only available as a native mobile app).   

Facebook can be used both through your browser (Web App) and can be downloaded from the App Store (Native App).

What to consider when choosing an app type

1. On-Device Resources

Will your app need access to a user’s system resources like GPS (this is how Uber finds you) or their camera (like Instagram)?

2. Budget

It’s no secret that building for one platform takes less resources than building for many.  If budget is a concern, consider building your Version 1.0 for one platform/device type only (i.e. iPhone iOS only, no iPadOS or Apple Watch watchOS). 

3. Timeline

Similar to budget, the more platforms you build for, the longer the development cycle will be.  Each app type will need to be designed, developed, and tested for the platform, which increases the overall timeline.

4. Competitive Landscape/User Expectation

If your competitors offer a web app and native mobile apps, your users will likely expect the same from you.  Research your vertical and know what your competitors are doing.

5. Ongoing Maintenance

Any type of app requires ongoing maintenance. You will need to keep the app up-to-date, manage dev ops, repair bugs, push new features, and sometimes support older versions. Before building any app, consider how you will maintain it for across all of the platforms you choose.

Web Apps

Web-based applications are accessed via an internet browser (like Chrome or Safari). As the name suggests, they are apps on the web!

Web App Pros:

  • Can be used on desktop, tablet and mobile devices via an internet browser
  • Discoverable by search engines
  • Do not need to be downloaded or installed
  • Do not require users to download updates, so all users are always on the same version (reducing legacy maintenance costs for you)

Web App Cons:

  • Do not deeply support built-in device features like GPS, camera and fingerprint
  • Need an active internet connection to run

What are Web Apps Best For?

Web apps are a great choice for business software applications.  Most types of business software need to be accessed by desktop computers at the office, with the option of some mobile support on the go.  Business software applications can be anything from internal customer databases, business efficiency software, form processing software, and more.  These are tools you and your team will use to run the business and make great use of the multi-platform accessibility as web app offers.

Quickbooks Online is a good example of a web-based business software application. Web-based apps are excellent for dashboard apps with multiple modules.

Web apps also have a lower barrier to entry for getting started, allowing you to get off the ground more quickly.  Maintenance is also easier because all of your users will always be on the same version of the software, eliminating legacy support issues.

Native Mobile Apps

Native apps are built for a specific mobile operating system. Native iOS Apps built specifically for the Apple iPhone.  They are downloaded and installed via the Apple App Store. Native Android Apps are built specifically for Android devices like Samsung.  They are downloaded and installed via an app store.

Native Mobile App Pros:

  • Support built-in device features like GPS, camera and fingerprint
  • Support home screen shortcuts
  • Can work offline
  • Support push notifications
  • Faster and more efficient
  • Familiar user experience

Native Mobile App Cons:

  • iOS Apps are ONLY for iPhone
  • Android Apps are ONLY for Android devices
  • Must be submitted through app stores for approval
  • Require users to download updates
  • Higher cost for platform-specific development

What are Native Apps best for?

Native Apps shine for any type of app that needs geo-locating.  Geo-locating is responsible for pinpointing the precise geographic location of the user to deliver content and experiences based on what is around them.  Apps like Uber, Skip the Dishes, and the Realtor app depend heavily on built-in GPS features on devices to accurately show users what drivers, restaurants and homes are for sale are nearby.  Although some locating features are available on web apps, you cannot beat the speed and efficiency in which a mobile app can access and deliver this information.

Apps with map pins and anything that says “nearby” are examples of geo-location in action.

Other types of apps that benefit from the native operating system environment are apps that need immediate processing.  Examples of these include photo editing apps and audio/video apps that stream the content.  This type of heavy processing is best handled from the installed environment right on a user’s phone.

Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps are built using web technologies, get their data from the web, but can be installed and used on a mobile device (like an app).

Progressive Web App Pros:

  • Support home screen shortcuts
  • Can work offline
  • Support push notifications
  • Can be used on desktop, tablet and mobile devices
  • Discoverable by search engines
  • Do not need to be downloaded or installed
  • Do not require users to download updates

Progressive Web App Cons:

  • Limited browser support
  • Limited hardware support
  • Not available on app stores

What are Progressive Web Apps best for?

Progressive Web Apps are still relatively new and have limited browser and hardware support.  However, they do have their place.  A great use for one of these apps is something like a news website.  News websites can easily be rendered by the web for browsing and reading, but can encounter times where offline access would be an advantage (like riding on the Subway).  In this circumstance, a Progressive Web App would allow for the content to still be accessible and not interrupt the user’s experience even though they fell offline.  

This same functionality can also be useful for an e-commerce store, where a brief interruption in service can mean losing a sale. 

Takeaways

Type of apps:

  1. Web App
  2. Native App (iOs and Android)
  3. Progessive Web App

Things to consider when choosing an app type:

  1. System Resources
  2. Budget 
  3. Timeline
  4. Competitive Landscape/User Expectation
  5. Ongoing Maintenance

What app type is best for what?

  1. Web Apps: Business Software
  2. Native Apps: Geo-locating, Immediate Processing
  3. Progressive Web Apps: Web Apps that need offline access