Mobile App vs Mobile Web: Who Really Needs an App?

  • 15 Dec , 2016
  • by Rahul Sethi

If we take a casual stroll down memory lane, we will see that there was a time when the world was hooked up on the internet, then web emerged as an undisputed platform for millions of users to join the revolution. A whole new dimension was discovered and web became the vehicle to travel through and explore seamless horizon. Web became the favorite place to learn, run business application, socialize, shop and do a lot more. While web was growing ever so rich in content and features, mobile makers and some big players of he web worked to breed a game changer. Yes, it’s those smartphones. Hand-held mobile devices that offer most of a desktop and cost a lot less. Smartphones soon eliminated the need for a desktop, or even a laptop for most user who just want to serve web to access their email, socialize, shop online, stream media and stay connected and well informed.

There was time when businesses required a website to make both ends meet. It became a necessity to reach out millions of potential customers and users. Hence, websites were trending. Big players even made TV commercials to make people aware of the URL of their websites. And now, these applications have taken the form of a mobile app, which might seem to be more of a trend than a necessity. This gives rise to an argument.

“Who really needs to have a mobile app” still remains the question under discussion. The era of mobile apps started much before we had touchscreen smartphones in our hand. These apps were the basic ones, calculator, camera, music player and games. Social networking platforms were very few and not so feature rich as they are today. Neither were the mobile devices capable of running the kind of apps we have today. However, as the mobile devices grew more sophisticated and advanced, most of the successful business ventures, which were running websites, jumped to mobile platform by making a mobile app which essentially is a RESTful client and does nothing more than its web version. If a mobile app does not use any of the native features of a mobile device then technically it doesn’t have to be a mobile app at all, but just a web app. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat wouldn’t ever cease to have a mobile app as they need device’s camera, a native feature, to take photos and selfies and upload them almost immediately. Intense mobile games may require large amount of device’s storage, say up to a couple of gigs, also need to access device’s processing and graphic capabilities directly to deliver high performance, so they need to be mobile apps without having a second thought. Apps that stream media content like Youtube and SoundCloud will work fine as web app, but it would be better to go with a mobile app because such apps might be accessed very frequently by a user. Accessing the app from device’s menu or app drawer is easier that opening the browser first and then typing URL or searching it up on Google before one could open it.

Taking the discussion further, it is time to throw light on the question “who doesn’t really need a mobile app”. Mobile apps seemingly perform better than web apps when accessed through a mobile browser, but there is a cost to be paid for the performance advantage. Developing apps for different mobile platforms to make that you don’t miss any potential customer or user is a reasonable investment in itself. And you cannot ignore the effort and money that is needed after developing and releasing the mobile for support and maintenance. A small change in workflow or UI is unforgiving. It means hours of coding and testing for different platforms separately and across different devices before releasing the update. The irony is that it’s not just your business who pays to keep up with the mobile app, users also face some repercussions of using mobile apps, although not much significant. A mobile app sits there in your mobile, holding up it’s fair share of storage space, even when it’s not running. A mobile app, in general, is likely to consume much larger chunk of RAM than it’s web equivalent opened in a browser tab. Moreover, a user would have to download those updates in an every while which deems the mobile apps to bandwidth unfriendly. E-commerce applications don’t use any native features of the mobile device, so mobile app doesn’t make much sense. Whether ordering food, shopping clothes, booking flight, or paying just bills online, you don’t need to install apps when you have a browser.

Web browsers also have become somewhat smart over past few years. They can get device’s geolocation, remember credentials, support push notifications, cache resources and data returned with responses for service requests and a lot more. By combining these enhancements with good old HTML, CSS and JavaScript, we can expect solutions that are no less than a mobile app in terms of functionality and performance. We have seen Apple and Google going in completely different directions, thus, expecting inter-compatibility between the two platforms would be hallucinating. In contrast, web developers have been making consistent effort for standardization of web technologies. WWW is not controlled or influenced by any big name… it doesn’t matter whether it’s Google, Microsoft, Mozilla or Apple adding something, they all are contributors.

Now as web AND mobile app developers, this may seem like we are beating the drums of our own demise but the trends are obvious and its implementation imminent.

But in the past year we have been working on technologies that have paved the way for web and mobile app developers to work hand in hand. This is not merely the rise of web, but the birth of a new generation of mobile-first development.

Perhaps the prime example of ‘web rising’ is Flipkart.

Flipkart, India’s e-commerce giant, decided to combine their web portal and native app into a Progressive Web App that has resulted in a 70% increase in conversions.

In 2015, Flipkart went app-only and temporarily shut down their mobile website, but were hit by instant repercussions which made them rethink their development strategy. Thus began ‘Flipkart Lite’, a Progressive Web App that combines the best of the web and the best of the Flipkart native app.

New APIs to offer a mobile web experience that loads fast, less data usage than before, and re-engages users in multiple ways. Users visit via their browser and find a fast app-like user experience. On revisits, it loads nearly instantly, even on stuttering connectivity.

Screens for Mobile App and Mobile Web
L: Mobile Web, R:Mobile App

Menu Screens for Mobile App and Mobile Web
L: Mobile App, R: Mobile Web

Listing Screens for Mobile App and Mobile Web
Listings Screen: Which is which?

The above screens are an example of how intuitive and immersive you can make your mobile web. In fact the progressive app for Flipkart is so good that you can hardly tell the difference, have a go yourself – try to figure out the mobile web screen from the mobile app screen from the third image above. Let me know in the comments!

According to the Google’s showcase on Flipkart (linked above), the following key insights pop into picture.

Users time on site with Flipkart lite vs. previous mobile experience:

– 3.5 minutes vs 70 seconds.
– 3x more time spent on site
– 40% higher re-engagement rate
– 70% greater conversion rate among those arriving via Add to Homescreen
– 3x lower data usage

There is no doubt now that web is rising, but it is not as simple as building a 90s website, or even a millennial website. Fabulous new web and mobile technologies have spawned into picture which have made the war between web and mobile more into a truce towards a greater good.

We would be writing in details about these new age technologies and how you can take exactly you can adopt these technologies into your web and/or mobile app.

Till then, stay tuned for part 2…

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