The 5 Virtues of Web Appiness

Two paths diverged on a device.
One is the narrow path to the native app, the other leads to the open Web.

You can take both paths, but if you had to pick one — native app or web app — which would you choose? Your decision will make a huge difference in how you handle the design, development and distribution of your app.

according to a recent report by Forrester Research, the long-running debate between native apps and web apps is merely industry jargon. The report argues that the debate is irrelevant now that web apps have caught up to native apps in capabilities. Forrester says, “that’s the reason why you will need a new cross-platform approach to loyalty. In the multidevice, multiconnection world, product strategists need more than a good product with a connection to win customer loyalty — they need to create a digital customer relationship and deliver that in a continuously connected experience across many devices.”

1. I can access my data from anywhere.

At home, the office, on the road, and now on some airplanes, I’m connected through my web app.

2. I’ll always get the latest version of my app.

Web apps can be updated quickly and easily, so there’s no need to resubmit the app to the AppStore (iPhone) or Marketplace (Android). And there’s always just one version: the latest version, with all the newest features and improvements. No need to manually upgrade to a new version every time. And I don’t have to go through a lengthy install process to use my web app.

3. It works on every device with a web browser.

Native apps only work on the device they were written for. Companies using native apps have to develop a separate app version for every device, which can be expensive not to mention time consuming. In contrast, the web is an open platform. Anyone can reach the web app on any web-connected device, regardless of whether it’s a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone. That means I can use my web app even if I’m using my friend’s iPhone or if I’m at an Internet cafe. The latest mobile devices ship with a modern browser capable of handling the latest emerging web standards. Just like a native, app, that browser can access the magic inside the hardware: the camera, GPS, gyroscope and compass.

4. It’s Safer.

Web apps run in the browser and I never have to download and install them on my phone. Because of this separation between the app code and my phone’s code, web apps can’t interfere with other tasks on my phone or the overall performance of my device. This means that I’m better protected from threats like viruses, malware and spyware. But I can still add a bookmark to the app on my homescreen just like I do for native apps.

5. I don’t have to bother with approvals, entry fees and wait times.

Most app stores require approvals with fees and lengthy waiting time.


Web App vs. Native App – Comparison

The Issues Native Apps Web Apps
Internet Access Not required; depends on app Usually required, however, members need account access anyway.
Installation/Updates Must be manually downloaded and installed Always updated to latest version; hit refresh
User Interface More advanced. Supports home screen icon. Less advanced, but catching up fast. Supports home screen icon.
Device Compatibility Platform-dependent, hardware-dependent Platform-agnostic, content can be reformatted with CSS to suit any device
Design/Graphics Fast and responsive Web apps aren’t quite as fast but are getting faster through advancedments in file compression techniques
Audio/Video Built in. Video using Flash works only if the device supports it (iPhone doesn’t) Possible with HTML5 without using Flash.
Push Notifications Built in. Possible with HTML5
Searchable Content No, not on the web Yes, by default through mobile search results
Sharable/Tweetable? Only if you build it into the app Web links can be shared freely. Social APIs and widgets allow easy one-click posting
Discussion and Collaboration Only if you build it, and it’s more difficult if data is inconsistent Discussion is easy, all data is stored on a server
Access to Hardware Sensors Yes: camera, gyroscope, microphone, compass, accelerometer, GPS Can access motion sensor, GPS, camera and voice recognition.
Development Specific tools required for each platform (like Apple’s). You have to build a separate app for each target device/platform Write once, publish once, view it anywhere.
Distribution Most app stores require approval with fee and wait time. No fee, no waiting.
Outside Access to Content No, the user must download your app Yes, just click a link
Edit App Yourself Not unless you know the programming technique it was written in Yes, use the same Content Management System you use for your website.
Cost Generally more expensive; requires advanced skillsets Significantly more affordable; uses open-source technology