Should I Build an App or a Website?
With the new technology advancements in both mobile and web development, the line between websites and mobile apps are getting blurred more than ever before. Other than the fact that websites and web apps are accessible on desktops too, the margin between the two is getting slimmer everyday. If you are not technically savvy it’s very easy to confuse the two. In this article we are going to cover some of the topics you need to consider before committing to a web or mobile app development project.
What’s the (right) question?
The terminology can be very, very confusing, so let’s clear it up now. We have covered the differences between web apps and websites before. The difference there is mostly about the sophistication and interactiveness of the final product, while the medium on which the product is delivered to users is the same: the Web.
But when people ask “Should I build an app or a website?” what they really mean is: “Do I need a responsive web app or a native mobile app?” For the sake of simplicity, in this article, we are going to use ‘web app’ as short for ‘responsive web apps’, and ‘mobile app’ as short for ‘native mobile app’.
The question now is: Should I build a web app or a mobile app?
Should I go any further?
The assumption for the rest of this article is that what you need has a level of sophistication beyond websites. But let’s see what the cases are in that you might only need a website:
I have less than $10K budget
We have answered the question “How Much Does it Cost to Develop an App?” before. Cost of building an app could be anywhere between $30K and $200K+ with an average around $100K. Although you can bring down the cost considerably if you use offshore resources, you are probably not going to make a good quality app with budget less than $10K. If your budget is less than $10K, perhaps the best course of actions for you is to build a prototype that you can use to raise funding for building your app. Learn more how prototyping works.
I only need people to check my store hours
I have seen this one before! That’s why it’s important for you to understand the difference between web apps and websites. If what you need is a website, you probably can build that cheaper and faster. Don’t waste your money and time on a mobile app or web app. Build a website and work on your digital presence.
Reasons to build a mobile app
Let’s go through the reasons that will push people toward building a mobile app instead of web app.
This used to mean that you need a mobile app but with the new HTML5 Geolocation feature now you can have access to the GPS location of your users on web apps on mobile. Still, accessing the GPS locations, especially continuously, is way easier on mobile apps in comparison to web apps. So if you want to use location in your app frequently or continuously, you need to consider building a mobile app.
Smartphones are getting better and better hardware everyday. Although this hardware is available to mobile browsers as well, the level of efficiency you can get from a native mobile app is still way better than web apps. So if you want to give your users the best possible user experience and if speed is important for them, mobile apps are better option.
Sometimes having a mobile app is a competitive advantage. It could be the differentiator between you and your competition and a reason for customers to choose you instead of them. Make sure you study the market first before committing to a mobile app, if this is the only reason you want to build a mobile app.
Do you want your users to be able to use your app while they are offline? That’s a great differentiator of web apps and mobile apps. Mobile apps can be available in offline mode. Web apps unfortunately can’t. So if having an offline mode is important for the success of your product, consider mobile apps.
How often will users use the app?
If your users will use the app 3 times a day, then having a mobile app could be beneficial. They don’t need to sing in every time they want to use your app, or type in the URL of the web app in the browser if you have a mobile app. Although you can get around the issues with web apps that’s well-built, usually mobile apps give a better user experience when an app is used more often.
Notification or Sensor Info
Are you planning on using push notifications or device sensor info? These features (also known as native features) are only available on native mobile apps and could be a deciding factor for you. Specially push notification which is becoming a new norm for getting in touch with your users. Mass push notification is the new mass email, and yes there is spamming there. Still if you want to use these features you need to consider mobile apps.
Reasons to build a web app
So far we focused on reasons that might tip over the scale toward the mobile app, but now we are going to talk about the other side: web apps.
Complex visualizations such as the ones you see in Google Analytics or other dashboard and business intelligence tools are not very well suited for mobile. This includes both responsive web apps and native mobile apps. Those apps are usually meant for desktop web views instead. You usually have more space available on desktop views and you can have more interactions with the data/charts as mouse clicks are more accurate than touch! So, if you are thinking complex visualization for mobile, think again.
If you must choose between native mobile apps and web apps for complex visualization, I would go with web apps. It’s easier to use the power of server-side rendering on web applications that might be more suitable for this solution.
Access to users
We all hear this: Mobile is taking over and it’s absolutely true. The 2016 Comscore report shows that people are spending more time on their mobile phones (using either web or native apps). Desktop is becoming a secondary device for people. That being said, when you have a mobile solution only, you are missing the desktop users but when you have a web application that can be responsive for mobile view, you have access to the 100% of the possible users.
Android or iOS, or cross platform?
When you build a mobile solution, you need to decide if you are building for iOS or Android or, even better, use a technology like ReactJS (we love it) to build cross-platform apps that can run on both. Either way, you need to decide on the platforms you want your app to run on. The decision is hard and can be costly. With web apps on the other hand, you are available on all platforms and you get that for free!
Have you had the experience of doing something on one of your devices and checking on the other device just to see there is no indication of that action happening? This is a common problem for mobile apps. Since you can build mobile apps to have an offline mode, you need to build syncing between devices too. Although it’s becoming easier to have multiple device sync with tools like Amazon Cognito and Google Firebase, still that’s a feature inherent in web applications. You can have that without needing any special tool to use if you build a web app.
What about both?
All the discussion above is for if you are limited by resources or time. If you don’t have those limitations, then you can decide to build both. You should still use the guidelines above to decide what to do first. Working on your app in multiple phases and iterations is very important. We have expertise on both mobile app development and web app development. So if you want an expert team to help you, feel free to contact us.