Native apps, the bouncing icons that dot your smartphone screen, have dominated the mobile computing landscape. Programmed purely for your device’s operating system, they complete highly specified tasks in an attractive manner on a less powerful device. However, there’s another way. HTML5, CSS3 and updates to JavaScript are making feature rich mobile computing available through your mobile Web browser; they’re called Web apps and you don’t download them to your phone, you access them over the Web. But the native app/web app comparison is far from one-to-one. And when deciding whether to pursue one or the other for your business, there is much to consider.

Below are some benchmarks to help you decide whether pursuing native apps or Web apps makes sense for your business.


There are two facets of accessibility worth considering -- accessibility as it relates to universality and broad, open access (a larger audience), and accessibility on the user’s device. On the device, as it stands now, there’s no real comparison. Native apps offer a smoother and more streamlined user interface, as they run offline on the device’s processor; however, the popularity of three different mobile operating systems means that companies have to commission three different versions of the same app to reach the largest audience possible.

Web apps offer more open access with lower performance standards. Last year, YouTube unveiled an HTML5 mobile site. The HTML5 version did away with Flash as the site’s video platform and now allows any smartphone device to access videos through pre-installed Web browsers. Although YouTube has a native app for every commonly used platform, the new mobile site is built to work with future devices and is cross-platform out-of-the-box.


While Web applications may provide more accessibility, even the most modern Web browsers still can’t provide the performance benchmarks that native apps reach. Web apps, with the exception of geolocation, don’t provide access to the slew of new hardware included in smartphone devices today. But apps that are coded specifically for certain classes of devices can integrate with a bevy of advanced hardware, including gyroscopes, cameras, microphones and speakers.

If your company is planning on delivering graphics heavy or complex content, a native app may be a more suitable choice. If broad accessibility and searchability are focuses, Web apps are a better choice.

Web standards are improving, however, offering new ways to display content over the Web. HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript are leading the charge against the closed, native app dominance by offering video and animation features through the typical Web browser. The New York Times unveiled a Web app deemed “The Skimmer” that runs in a user’s browser window and looks startlingly similar to the publication’s mobile app -- no download necessary. Attractive.


The costs associated with programming a new app for your business are obviously one of the most important concerns. Native apps demand a larger investment, as they require a specific set of tools and expertise to program. Moreover, native apps need to be programmed for several different devices. Web apps, which can be written in HTML5, work for all platforms, without parallel coding.

Native apps are sold through centralized marketplaces, like the Apple App Store or the Android Marketplace; however, these centralized markets maintain ultimate control over the distribution of your content. Web apps, meanwhile, are accessed directly over the Web, so there’s no need to download from a central location.

Choose an App Based on Your Needs

In the end, whether you use native apps or web apps depends on your needs. Do you need a good-looking app that isn’t as accessible but offers better performance, or do want an app that works for every device out of the box and relies on the enormous sharing power of the World Wide Web?

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