Roller UI
April 9, 2012

Native app or web app? Our guide to choosing the right development strategy

Written By Martin Sandhu

We get asked a wide range of questions when discussing app projects with our clients. Some of these include:

1. What is the most cost effective way of developing an app?

2. Is it possible to have an app and not have it on the app store?

3. Is it possible to have an app on multiple platforms without having to spend double the development costs?

When we come to deciding on the best development strategy for an app we look at a number of factors. These factors help us decide the best development strategy to achieve the clients goal using the development solutions available which include building a native app, web app or a hybrid of both. So what are these factors?

What Are Native Apps, Web Apps, and Hybrid Apps?

Firstly if you are unsure what a native app, web app or hybrid is….

Native apps are apps that are explicitly developed and stored on a device. Native apps require installation such as downloading from the App Store from Apple.

Web apps are written entirely with web technologies such as HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript and the code is executed by the browser; installation is optional.

Hybrid apps are native apps with embedded HTML. They have most of the benefits of native apps. The web portions can be packed within the app or downloaded from the web.

Factor 1: How Will the Consumer Use the App?

If the app uses features of the mobile or tablet device such as a microphone, speaker, camera, vibration, GPS, etc, a native app is more appropriate and this is required to be coded in the native language of the platform. If the app relies on the Internet for content such as downloading news or a product catalogue through a web service then a web app is more appropriate.

Factor 2: How Fast and How User Friendly Do You Want the App?

Since a native app is explicitly downloaded and stored on the device, generally the user experience is better. The user interface can be cleaner without multiple frames. As Matt Legend Gemmell said when speaking about native apps in his article “Apps vs the Web,” “… humans are designed to focus the majority of our attention on a single task at a time. Interfaces which permit and even encourage this separation of concerns reduce our stress level, and facilitate concentration.” Native apps tend to have better graphics and a smooth user experience due to the interface with the device. Web and hybrid apps tend to have a high amount of bugs and issues that need resolving or patching as they don’t have a native interface with the device.

Factor 3: How Will the App Be Distributed?

Native apps can be distributed for free through app stores using their payment system. However, a negative is the loss of control through the approval process, monetization, and promotion of the app. Web apps generally have less visibility and are usually marketed using search engines or on branded websites directly to the consumer.

Factor 4: What Do You Want to Spend?

Building a native app is more costly especially as they need to be developed for each specific operating system – iOS, Android (multiple devices), Windows, etc. Many web apps can be developed by in-house developers using existing skills. Therefore, native apps can also take longer to develop. Maintaining apps on multiple operating systems is also expensive and time consuming.

Of course, you can always use the hybrid model, which can combine the best of both worlds. Hybrid applications are increasingly rising in popularity as operating systems become more fragmented.

Usage, user experience, control, distribution, and cost all come into play when developing an app; and then there is how to design the app itself so that it is engaging and retains the user to defray distribution costs.