Mobile App vs. Web App

Did you know mobile and web apps are actually two entirely different things? It is very common to assume they are one and the same.

Some reasons why the two are confused and interchanged are the experience for the user and the way they are developed and deployed. 

Before diving into the differences between mobile and web applications, it is important to note that there is actually a difference between web applications and websites. To put it simply: a web app is a website that is designed fluidly, responding to being viewed on a smartphone. While websites can be static and most commonly are rarely updated, other websites are responsive and interactive. Web apps specifically funcion like mobile apps but in the comfort of your phone.

Let’s explore the main differences between developing a mobile app, what it entails, and what a web app is all about:

Mobile Apps 

A mobile application, most commonly referred to as an app, is a type of application software designed to run on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet computer. Mobile applications frequently serve to provide users with similar services to those accessed on PCs.

This short article provides an in depth overview of what a mobile application is all about.

There are actually three kinds of mobile apps: Native Mobile Apps: Native mobile apps are designed to be “native” to one platform, whether it’s Apple iOS, Google’s Android, or Windows Phone, hybrid Mobile Apps and of course, web apps. an application program that is stored on a remote server and delivered over the Internet through a browser interface. Web services are Web apps by definition and many, although not all, websites contain Web apps. According to Web.AppStorm editor Jarel Remick, any website component that performs some function for the user qualifies as a Web app.

Accessed via the internet, and adaptive to whichever device you’re viewing them on, web apps are not native to a particular system and don’t need to be downloaded or installed. Web applications are responsive and look and function a lot like mobile apps — and this is where the confusion arises.

While the designs are similar and follow the same fonts and color scheme, these are essentially two different products.

Web apps need an active internet connection in order to run, whereas mobile apps may work offline. Mobile apps have the advantage of being faster and more efficient, but they do require the user to regularly download updates. Web apps will update themselves.

Above all, mobile apps and web apps are designed and built very differently. To further differentiate between the two, it helps to understand how each is developed.

Read more: How to Do Usability Testing for Mobile Apps

How are mobile apps built?

Mobile apps use a network connection to access remote computing resources. The app development process includes creating installable applications for the mobile devices and implementing backend services, for instance data access through an API. Testing the application on target devices is also part of the process.

How native mobile apps are built

The term native app development refers to building a mobile app exclusively for a single platform. The app is built with programming languages and tools that are specific to a single platform. For example, you can develop a native Android app with Java or Kotlin and choose Swift and Objective-C for iOS apps.ces, you’ll need to build multiple versions that, most likely, won’t have identical user interfaces.

How hybrid mobile apps are built

As the name suggests, hybrid apps are a combination of both web and native mobile applications. Developers build hybrid apps using web technologies such as JavaScript, CSS and HTML. The code is then wrapped within a native application using open-source frameworks such as Ionic or React Native.

Mobile Apps


  • Faster than web apps
  • Greater functionality as they have access to system resources
  • Can work offline
  • Safe and secure — native apps must first be approved by the app store
  • Easier to build due to the availability of developer tools, interface elements, and SDKs


  • More expensive to build than web apps
  • Compatibility with different platforms (i.e. iOS and Android) usually means designing and building the app from scratch
  • Expensive to maintain and update
  • It may prove difficult to get a native app approved by the app store

How are web apps built?

A majority of web applications can be written in JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and HTML5. Web application development will typically have a short development life-cycle lead by a small development team. Front-end development for web applications is accomplished through client-side programming.

Web apps


  • Do not need to be downloaded or installed — web apps function in-browser
  • Easy to maintain — they have a common codebase regardless of a mobile platform
  • Will update themselves
  • Quicker and easier to build than mobile apps
  • Do not require app store approval, so can be launched quickly


  • Do not work offline
  • Slower than mobile apps, and less advanced in terms of features
  • May not be as discoverable as mobile apps as they are not listed in a specific database, such as the app store
  • Quality and security is not always guaranteed — web apps don’t need to be approved by the app store

Read more: Free Platforms to Create Prototyping for Apps or Web Design

Which type of app should I use?

The short answer is it depends. Can you get by with a “fits all” app, or should you look for something that fits your specifications a little better? It’s based on the occasion. Think about what features are most important to you, your company goals, and/or the app’s main function.

When to build a web app

If your app is simply an interactive resource for additional information or only needs internet access to provide a satisfactory user experience (UX), a web app might be the way to go. Progressive web apps are a good fit for companies trying to build better mobile usability than what is currently offered via their mobile site.

When to build a native mobile app

If your app will need access to the device’s camera or GPS, you should highly consider making a native mobile app. While a hybrid mobile app does allow you to utilize some of these features, it probably won’t be the best experience for your user. Pokémon Go is a native app, utilizing both the camera and GPS functions of the smart device, combined with augmented reality software.

When to build a hybrid mobile app

While hybrid mobile apps aren’t as common as web or native apps, the list of companies using them might surprise you. In certain circumstances, web apps are converted to hybrid mobile apps in order to take have some native-like advantages, including an app marketplace listing. Twitter is a hybrid app that really has the look and feel of a native app.

There are many factors to consider when deciding which type of app is best for your business. Whether you choose to build a web app, native app, or hybrid app, it’s important to keep your users top of mind to provide the most value and best experience possible.

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