Web App vs. Native App vs. Mobile Website

Posted by Dave Miller on 07/08/2011

Mobile website cartoonI got a call from a long-time Shawnee web design client last week. The voice on the other end of the phone said something I’m hearing more and more. I need an app.

Really? Let’s talk about that. When I sat down with Cyndi from Carolyn Harris Prudential Realty, I explained the differences between web apps, native apps and mobile websites. Cyndi decides that what she REALLY needs is a mobile version of her website. I agree. What their web visitors need is an easy, informative way to access their site from a mobile phone. And since their website is already built in our Javelin CMS, the build-out will be cost effective.

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Web App vs. Native App vs. Mobile Website

What is a web app?

A mobile web app is a software program that runs within the web browser on your mobile device. Technologies that run these apps are usually Javascript or HTML5. Apps can be designed to create custom complex interactions like interactive games, real-time calculations and geo-centric data processing. These apps are delivered on the fly, as needed, through your cellular network. They are not separate programs that get stored on the user’s mobile device.

What is a native app?

A native app is an application or program that runs on a hand-held device. Native apps are stand-alone programs that can connect to the internet. Usually people download native mobile apps from app stores such as the Apple app store or the Android Market. A native app can only be “native” to one type of mobile operating system: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, etc. This is why an iPhone app works only on iOS devices. If you want to also make your app experience available to Android, Blackberry and iPhone users, you’ll need to develop and maintain a separate piece of software for each device platform. That gets complicated and expensive.

What is a mobile website?

A mobile website is created for touchscreen devices (usually smart phones). The navigation is usually simple and touchscreen “finger-friendly.” Web page content is light in text and graphics so data will load fast over cellular networks. If your current website is built in Javelin CMS, adding a mobile version of your website is easy.

I go on to tell Cyndi that for her website, we can take existing information from her current website and redevelop the information for all 3 types of her mobile website visitors:

  1. The “Urgent Now” User: We’ll highlight easy to use ‘click to map’ and ‘click to call’ buttons.
  2. The Repeat User”: We’ll simplify the property search criteria and function. And we’ll also highlight her current open-house schedule.
  3. The “Casual Surfer”: We’ll simplify and prioritize applicable company information making it easy to find and read.

My visit with Cyndi went well. I was happy to explain the difference between apps and a mobile website. She made the right decision for her web visitors and her marketing budget.

Back story on this longtime client:

Carolyn Harris Realty has been a Back40 Design client for more than eight years (longer than most Oklahoma City web developers have been in business). Over those years we’ve assisted in redeveloping the Carolyn Harris Realty website a total of 3 times. With each redevelopment, we’ve improved usability, marketing appeal and programming functions. We do more than just build websites. We build relationships with our clients though consistency. Nothing builds trust more.

Do you have questions about website design, search engine optimization (SEO) or online marketing? Contact me or JR Ross or Lori Cathey at 405-478-4080 today.