Mobile Development: Comparing Native Apps and Web Apps

John Horner
June 21, 2023
9 min read

Are you looking to develop a mobile solution for your workforce or customers, or as a product to generate new revenue streams? Mobile solutions are excellent ways to connect with your audience and introduce innovative features to your target market.

If you’re looking to create this type of application, you’ll soon recognize that there are two primary paths you can take in developing a mobile solution: native mobile app development and mobile web solution development.

These solutions primarily differ because of user access, user experience, and development & support capabilities. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between these options in greater detail and share insights to help you determine which approach best fits your needs.

What are native mobile apps and mobile web solutions?

The main point of difference between native mobile apps and mobile web solutions is user accessibility.

Native Mobile App: Users download and install the application from an app store, or in some cases, directly through a file download or Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution.

Mobile Web Solution: Users of mobile web solutions access the application directly through their web browser, such as Safari or Chrome. There is nothing required to install the application on the user’s phone.

You will notice that we did not include Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) as a separate mobile solution category. Progressive Web Applications are Mobile Web Solutions that leverage specific phone capabilities that more closely mimic mobile apps, including offline access, mobile security, and home screen icons. For the sake of this article, PWAs should be considered mobile web solutions.

What are the similarities between mobile apps and mobile web solutions?

There are many similarities regarding the capabilities of mobile apps and mobile web solutions. Both mobile apps and mobile web solutions can be accessed on mobile devices, and each can provide interactive user experiences with rich and dynamic functionality. In addition, both solutions support various types of content, including text, imagery, audio, and video. Plus, web solutions are able to interact directly with certain features on a user’s phone, including the GPS, camera, and notifications.

Regardless of the type of solution you build, it is important to define and test against the different platforms and devices that users will employ to access your solution if you plan to target mobile devices. Different platforms, browsers, and devices will have disparate layouts and renderings of the user interface and may have unique user interactions and experiences. It is therefore important to define a test plan that considers the most popular platforms and devices employed by your users. You can then use tools, such as Browser Stack, to perform comprehensive testing.

Given these similarities, there are many times when either a mobile app or mobile web solution could both accomplish your business goals and objectives. As a result, it is important to consider the differences when selecting your solution as related to capabilities, user experience, and the effort and cost to develop & maintain the solution.

What are the differences between mobile apps and mobile web solutions?

While it is possible to create most applications as either a native mobile app or as a mobile web solution, there are several key differences to consider when architecting your application.

Download vs. Immediately Accessible: Mobile web solutions are accessible instantly through a web browser, while mobile apps require users to download and install them from app stores or other distribution channels. Updates and enhancements to applications are also immediately accessible to users of mobile web solutions, whereas native apps require users to download updates. This is important from a support and maintenance standpoint because it is possible that you could have users running different versions of your application unless you force users to update it.

Shortcuts: As a default, native mobile apps add shortcuts onto users’ mobile device home screens once they are downloaded, which makes them easy to access for regular and ongoing usage. It is possible to create home screen shortcuts to commonly used mobile websites; however, this either requires manual steps for the user and/or additional steps for developers.

User Experience: Mobile apps offer a more optimized and tailored user experience, adhering to platform-specific design guidelines that provide familiarity to users. Mobile web solutions can provide a consistent experience, but may not have the same level of performance and platform integration as native mobile apps.

Development and Support: Mobile web solutions use web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which are widely known and accessible. Native app development requires platform-specific languages and frameworks. There are cross-platform development tools, such as React Native, ionic, and flutter, that allow cross-platform native mobile apps to be developed using a single code base. However, there is still additional effort in the development and testing of native mobile apps to ensure they work as expected across different platforms and devices. Mobile app platforms also have both up-front and ongoing development standards and review processes, which require additional effort, cost, and maintenance. This results in mobile apps typically having a higher total cost of ownership (TCO) than mobile web solutions.

Available Features: Native mobile apps have access to device-specific features like push notifications and offline capabilities. While mobile web solutions can leverage some device capabilities, the extent may vary across different platforms and browsers. This gives native apps the edge for applications that require deep or consistent access to device-specific features, though mobile web solutions still are able to interact with many device-specific aspects. We recommend you check out WhatWebCanDo.Today for a more comprehensive review of specific features that are available using web browsers.

Is a mobile app or mobile web solution right for me?

When deciding between a mobile app and a mobile web solution, there are several factors to consider. If your application needs to interact with specific mobile device features, such as geofencing or push notifications, a native mobile app might be the better choice. Native apps have direct access to device APIs and can more seamlessly integrate with the device’s capabilities. On the other hand, if your primary concern is reaching a wide audience and making your solution easily discoverable, app store distribution can play a significant role. Users are accustomed to searching and discovering apps in app stores, which can provide a centralized platform for app promotion and visibility. The ease of home screen shortcuts also can help improve users’ ongoing engagement with the app.

Another aspect to consider is the nature of your application. If it is a business app or a consumer app that requires high performance, platform-specific design guidelines, and a polished user experience, a native app can deliver a more optimized and tailored solution. Native apps can adhere closely to the design patterns and user interface guidelines of each platform, providing familiarity to users and enhancing engagement.

If you are looking to develop a solution that will work well for mobile desktop users as well as for mobile device users, creating a responsive web application that dynamically formats to desktop, tablet, and mobile devices can provide a great degree of flexibility. Mobile web solutions generally provide better cross-platform compatibility, cost-effective development, and easier maintenance.

In addition, mobile web technologies are widely known and accessible, allowing developers to leverage existing web skills and build applications that can run on multiple platforms without the need for separate development efforts. For many business applications, you can provide simple instructions on how to create shortcuts to improve the adoption and engagement of mobile web solutions.

If you are developing a mobile app as a product or means to generate revenue, it will also be important to understand your competition and the expectations of your audience. Often, there are benefits to creating a hybrid model that includes a combination of both a mobile web solution and native app. If you decide to go this route, we recommend that you design the features and experience on both your native app and web solution with intention instead of simply adding all features to both versions. This can help reduce costs and also improve the user experience.


When deciding whether to build a mobile app or mobile web solution, it’s important to assess your specific requirements, budget, target audience, and long-term goals. Consider the need for specific device features, the desired user experience, the availability of resources and expertise, and the trade-offs between development effort, performance, and distribution. Ultimately, both native apps and mobile web solutions have their own strengths and considerations, and the right choice depends on the unique needs and objectives of your mobile solution.

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Meet John Horner


John Horner has over 20 years of experience in the software industry. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has served as an adjunct professor at Drexel University and Temple University. Today, he helps customers understand the root of their business challenges and provides consultation on how to accomplish goals and create new opportunities.

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