Mobile apps vs Mobile web: Who really needs an app?

  • 20 Feb , 2017
  • by Rahul Sethi
  • 0 comments
  • 410 Views

The time when the world was hooked up on the internet, 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 it and explore seamless horizon. Web became the favorite place to learn, run business application, socialize, shop and do a lot more. While the web was growing ever so rich in content an
d features, mobile makers and some big players of the web worked to breed a game changer. Yes, it’s them 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.

Did your ever so curious mind ever came across the question “why build mobile apps when mobiles have a web browser”. What exactly a mobile app can do that a mobile friendly, that is, responsive website or web app cannot? Let’s look at the apps you have installed on your smartphone. Sure, there must be WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, may be Instagram and Snapchat too. Don’t you shop online? So Amazon, Walmart (USA), Ebay, Flipkart (India) and may some more are there too. Who doesn’t like to play games. There must be at least one game installed. Let’s not forget the pre-installed utility apps and the obvious one like Youtube, Google Maps and Gmail. What most applications need is a RESTful client that allows targeted customers and users to interact with the business. May be it doesn’t necessarily have to be a mobile app. A simple web app will suffice. But these are mobile apps. Market seems to have a cycle of creating new trends in an every while, when older trends fade and eventually die away. There was time when your business 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” be 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 so feature rich as they are today. Neither the mobile devices were 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 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 an overhead 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 apps, 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 advancements 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 is just 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.

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