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Mobile-enabled Website: Mobile Web Apps vs Native Apps

October 18th, 2011

Mobile websites are optimized for touch or large screens and resolve the usability issues that a normal website runs into. HTML5 is breathing down the web, which is falling and taking on native apps. Mobile web developers can leverage the local data, hardware and offline capabilities to build a custom HTML5 app optimized for Smartphones and tablets.

The Mobile Web vs Native apps debate for building Mobilized website is not getting anywhere and not relevant to Mobile product strategy. Mobile web usage grows with increasing adoption of Smartphone and tablets worldwide in Mobile development. The Forrester’s research reveals that heavy app users are also heavy mobile web users. In the UK, 51% of consumers download apps regularly also access the mobile Internet at least daily. In the US, one-third of Smartphone owners download apps at least monthly. Most of the US consumers who have access through a mobile device have used a combination of SMS, apps and browsers. In the UK, among mobile Internet users, 72% iPhone owners access the mobile Internet on a daily basis. The number of Smartphone owners in the U.S. will hit 159 million in 2015, up from 82 million in 2010.

The differences between Mobile web and Native apps enable users to choose the right solution between the two ecosystems.

Native apps Mobile Web
Smartphone device orientation
  • Optimized for the device such as iPhone, iPad, Android to run
  • Need to build each app customized for different operating systems
  • Heavy use of developer kits for building apps with built-in support of hardware and software on the mobile device like the gyroscope, camera, Multimedia, accelerometer and other advanced features like Multi-threading
  • Web apps are sandboxed inside the web browser and access the device-specific features;
  • For wider reach, apps are customized to devices such as touch screen and tablets using device detection and content adaptation
  • Mobile application not compatible to all devices of different platforms and screen sizes;
  • Web apps less efficient to run animation and games
Technologies Objective C, C++, for iPhone apps and Javascript for Android & BlackBerry devices Use standard web technologies like HTML, CSS and Javascript for sleek interface and personalized user experience.
HTML5 optimizes for different Smartphones and tablets
User experience Speed and performance ensures higher adoption, usage volume and engagement.
Higher conversion rate for iPhone and Android apps.
  • Delivers advanced interactivity to web apps
  • HTML5 apps have intuitive look and feel with easy monetization of apps.
  • Lower conversion rate for web apps.
Browsers Content and apps are device-specific without web application Web apps work on common browsers that can be accessed on any web-enabled Smartphone, so device-specific customization is much simpler for the developers.
Browsers on devices do not take advantage of CSS3 or HTML5.
Online/Offline services The apps can run online as well as offline; No need for the device to be connected to the Internet, but require one for downloading apps Web apps optimized to Mobile web browsers having internet connection with large inbuilt memory to access content on the web and save information using online services from multiple devices.
Localization Can use the same set of commands irrespective of the app they are using No need for a device-specific development but delivers real-time updates.
Advanced features High-end functionality for native apps
iOS does not support Flash sites
Produce enhanced functionality like Geo-location, video tags through phone features and device context.
Rich web app features can be developed with JavaScript, jQuery, or jTouch at the start-up level.
Cross-Platform apps Can build mobile applications with Titanium or PhoneGap and publish native apps to multiple platforms Titanium, PhoneGap, jQuery Mobile frameworks allows developers to build apps on all mobile platforms and different operating systems using a single codebase.
HTML5 web apps ideal for content production
Downloads Downloaded from App Store or Android Market. No web store available.
Marketing & Distribution Distribution and marketing through App Store.
SEO-friendly
High RoI as monetizing apps can be done on the web without location-specific factors, updates are available freely and applicable to all devices without App Store review processes which are sometimes time-consuming; Distribution, Marketing and tracking done like standard websites.
Cost Higher cost due to developer skills in native programming languages.
Creating a high-end rich media app for iPhone or iPad can cost thousands of dollars
Cheaper and quicker to build, develop and maintain.
Higher costs while roaming across countries.

Mobile web developers are keen to develop hybrid apps that integrate native apps as well as web apps. This would ensure access to content without requiring devices with Internet connectivity and also leverage cloud that makes large built in memory storage redundant. Mobile web apps can run online and also compile the same core code for iPhone and Android and submit it to the app store.

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