Native Apps vs Web Apps

From Google to Qantas, everyone seems to be creating and distributing native apps or operating mobile sites (and sometimes doing both). If you want to tap into the mobile market, which should you choose?

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Everybody Needs an App, Right?

Smartphones, or mobile phones with internet access, have become ubiquitous. According to a Nielsen study conducted on behalf of Telstra in 2010, this year should see the percentage of Australian mobile phone users who own smartphones reach 50 percent.

You can even see this trend for yourself. If you take a look around next time you’re out, you’ll see busy professionals, soccer moms, uni students and even children all focussed on that tiny device in their hands. And more often than not, these people aren’t talking on the phone—they’re accessing information online.

The business world has sat up and taken notice of this trend, and now companies across Australia and around the world have developed solutions to get their service and information out to the world. The first is the mobile device application, or native app; and the second is a website developed solely for mobile devices, called a mobile site.

From Google to Qantas to the Melbourne Aquarium, everyone seems to be creating and distributing native apps or operating mobile sites (and sometimes doing both). If you want to tap into the mobile market, which should you choose?

Option #1: Native Apps
Native apps are downloaded directly to your mobile device from online stores like iTunes, and they use the device to power themselves. Native apps give you complete control over the design and functionality of your application, so you can have developers build almost anything you can imagine.

When a native app is developed well, it integrates seamlessly with the device’s operating system and provides information faster than an internet search. Create a slick, easy-to-use interface and appropriate functionality, and you may find yourself with an army of loyal users. In addition, native apps are a great way to get global exposure for your company. You can submit your native app to the appropriate app store and, if accepted, appear worldwide and potentially make a great deal of money.

However, there are disadvantages to native apps as well: first and foremost is that creating one for mobile users is a lot more complicated than it sounds. Developers are currently making native apps for Apple iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, Palm, RIM (Blackberry), Symbian (Nokia) and Windows devices, as they dominate the market. Unfortunately, you can’t create just one native app that works on every device out there; native apps are device specific, and so it can be costly to develop multiple versions of them. Plus, some of the device-specific app stores take a percentage of all app sales.

Native apps also present a maintenance challenge. The operating systems of many mobile devices are frequently updated, and this may force you to update your native app to keep it working properly. For instance, Apple releases one major update and a number of minor ones to its operating system each year. These updates could cause major headaches for you and your developers.


Option #2: Mobile Websites
Mobile websites, which are also referred to as mobile sites, m sites and lite sites, are websites designed specifically for mobile devices. These sites are typically small, stripped-down versions of an organization’s main website, and they’re attractive to users because they fit the small screens of mobile devices and they load quickly. Businesses and organizations feature only the most relevant information for users on these sites. For instance, Facebook’s main website (http://www.facebook.com) features a large graphic on the left, a new member signup area on the right, a login area at the top and a number of links along the bottom of the page. In contrast, Facebook’s mobile website (http://m.facebook.com) takes up far less real estate. It has no graphics and is much more compact, displaying only a login area, a link for help and a link to the new member signup.

One of the greatest advantages of mobile websites over native apps is their ability to bridge the gaps between operating systems. Mobile sites aren’t device specific, so an iPhone user can access the site just as easily as a Blackberry user can. Another benefit of mobile sites is their relative ease in development and maintenance. Mobile sites can be developed in conjunction with an organization’s main site (often with just another style sheet), so developers can update both sites quickly and easily.

Finally, most newer content management systems (CMS), including Blocks™, can easily manage mobile websites. This means that you can have one CMS that powers all of your digital marketing, and that CMS can share and reuse content between each component (e.g. your website, mobile site, email marketing and etc.).

The biggest drawback to mobile websites is their performance. While mobile sites can offer all the beauty and functionality of their native app counterparts, mobile internet browsers can’t mimic the speed of an app that can utilize the device’s hardware to its fullest capabilities. This dilemma may soon change, as browser technology and mobile internet speed are improving rapidly, but it’s still an issue for the moment.

How Do You Decide?
Although many developers (including some at BlocksGlobal®, the maker of Blocks™ CMS) assert that the technology behind mobile websites is best in the long-term, native apps still offer end users the best experience when accessing information online now. So how do you decide what’s best for you right now?

Start by carefully considering your goals and answering some basic questions:

  • Who do you want to reach?
  • What are the two or three most critical features you want to offer to users?
  • Where will most users access your information (e.g. from home, from work, while commuting, etc.)?
  • Why would users download your native app/visit your mobile site/access your web app?
  • How much time and money do you have to develop this app or site?


Additionally, it’s very important to consider your budget, as the development of any of these solutions can become expensive without careful planning and preparation. Generally speaking however, the cost of creating a mobile site is cheaper than the cost of developing multiple native apps.

If all this still seems a bit confusing, don’t despair. It’s often helpful to discuss your options with an experienced mobile site and app developer. The knowledgeable team at SCT deal with these issues every day, and we’d be happy to put our expertise to work for you. We offer advice in plain English, and we provide a framework for professional, customized solutions. If you’d like to find out more, please contact us by email at info@sct.com.au or by telephone at 03 9486 0223.