Most businesses know the importance of having a mobile presence. However, what might be confusing is, “what is the real difference between a native mobile application and a mobile web application and what criteria do you use to select one over another?

At first glance, it can be difficult to tell a mobile web app / website from a native application. Understand these 4 key points and you’ll be able to tell the difference and know which is best for your needs:

1. Accessibility

A mobile web app is comprised of specially formatted web pages made to look good on smartphones and tablets when accessed via the Internet browser. Mobile websites use basic mobile device features, like maps and click-to-call features. Mobile apps (also formatted for handheld devises and tablets) are downloaded from the app store and installed on your mobile device before you can use them.  They can work with or without the Internet depending on the features of the app.

2. Audience

Understand what your customer wants so you can correctly assess their needs. For example, a customer looking for a good restaurant wants to use the Internet to search for a nearby restaurant, check reviews, look at the menu, make a reservation, and search for coupons all while on the road. For this audience a mobile website is the right choice.  For an interactive game or standalone app that doesn’t need Internet access – an app is your best bet. Studies show users want mobile browsers for shopping, searching and entertainment, and mobile apps for managing data, playing games, and using productivity apps.

3. New or Existing Customer

New customers seeking information about your company, looking for directions, or placing a call from their phone to your business don’t want to download an app on their phone to handle these types of tasks.  For these customers, a mobile-friendly website is an excellent choice. For the restaurant example, if you have customers that place takeout orders on a weekly basis, downloading an app on their phone would be useful and convenient, especially if you offer coupons or some type of savings.

4. Cost

In a feature to feature comparison, a mobile friendly website will be less expensive than a mobile app because a mobile website takes less time to develop, maintain, and release. However, the potential for growth may be far greater for your business in certain industries when having a mobile app over a website. In this case, the higher price would be justified.

Here’s the million dollar question: Which is better, a native mobile app or a mobile web app?

The short answer is – it depends on your goals.  An interactive game or an application with unique features will probably require mobile application development.  If you want content that is mobile friendly or a simplified version of your existing website that can reach the largest audience then a mobile friendly website makes sense. Many businesses build both. A mobile website for a general audience and a mobile app to handle specific activities.

In general, a mobile website should be the first step when creating a mobile presence, while an app is a better choice when developing an application for a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished via a web browser.

Blake Scott
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