What is the Difference Between a Native Mobile App and a Web App?

Inspire Visual By Inspire Visual
Updated February 2024

Are you not sure what the differences are between a native mobile app vs a web app? For the untrained eye they seem similar, but there is in fact a world of difference between the two. We’ll get into the differences of how they are developed, the capabilities they offer and the technologies they use.

Building a successful app requires an understanding of their differences, so you can make an informed choice on which technology is best for you.

How are mobile apps different from web apps?

Native Mobile apps vs. web apps

The number of smartphone users is rapidly increasing every year and so is the need for new apps. In 2016 there were a little less than 3.7 billion people using a smartphone. In 2021 there are more than 6.3 billion smartphone users worldwide. That number is expected to grow further with several hundred million added every year.

Smartphone users worldwide

Being visible in one of the fastest growing markets is a must-do for any business or they will be left in the dust by their tech-savvy competitors. However, doing it the right way is not as simple as it sounds.

A good digital strategy is required to determine the best approach for having your customers interact with your business from their mobile phones. Often, the most efficient way to engage users is through an app.

The two most popular types for developing and launching an app are native mobile apps and web apps. To better decide whether you should go for mobile development or web development, you’ll need to decide what type of app will best suit your requirements, budget and goal.

What about progressive web apps?

Progressive web apps (PWA) are a mix of native app and web app technology. This app type can use some of the native app features not available to web apps as well as some of the advantages of web apps over native apps. The down-side to progressive web apps is that their flexibility is also their weakness as they are a compromise between the two other technologies and therefore never excel in either.

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Is there a difference between a native mobile app and a web app?

It is common to use the terms native mobile app and web app to describe the same app type, but there are differences.

A native mobile app is any app installed on an Android or iOS supported smartphone from an App store. Specific development tools are used to create native apps, such as Java and Kotlin for Android devices and Swift or Objective-C for iOS devices.

To take full advantage of native mobile development, native apps are commonly programmed for the specific platform (Android or iOS), but due to the flexibility and cost-savings if the goal is to target both major mobile platforms at the same time, apps are also sometimes built in a cross-platform environment, enabling the apps to work on both devices simultaneously.

Native and cross-platform apps

Native mobile apps are downloaded and installed through the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store. The big advantage to native apps is that they get access to the mobile devices’ advanced system resources, i.e. near field communication (NFC), GPS and camera to name a few. Web apps do not have access to most of the phone’s features due to security measures.

What are the characteristics of a web app?

Web apps are not displayed in app stores and do not need to be installed on the smartphone to work. Instead they are accessed through the phone’s internet browser and resize the UI to whichever screen size it’s being accessed from.

Since web apps are not installed on the phone, they are heavily dependent on a network connection to function and a slow connection can affect the user experience.

Web apps are also not programmed for one platform specifically. That makes them extremely versatile on a wide array of devices and at a lower development cost than their native app counterparts.

Web apps are not quite as snappy as native apps as they download every screen requested by the app user, but in terms of UI and UX design web apps can be made to look very similar to a native app.

Updating web apps is a seamless experience for the user as they are made on the server and not on the mobile phone, so there will never be a need to download a new version.

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What are the characteristics of a native app?

As we mentioned above a native app is delivered through an app store, be it Google Play or Apple’s App Store. A big advantage of having it listed in an app store is that your immediately reach millions of users.

Keep in mind though, any revenue generated through the app stores will have to be split between you and the app store owner. Google and Apple both charge a 30% cut of any app revenue.

Besides being a big advantage to be on the app store with an already massive audience, thus cutting down on the need for marketing costs, having an app be built on native technology also offer other quite enticing advantages.

Fast performance and not being as network dependent is a big draw for many app owners. Once the app is installed on a mobile device it can cache data on the device with much less need for re-downloading app data.

So instead of downloading the entire UI and functionality (HTML, JavaScript, CSS and content) every time it’s used, it just requires any content that needs to be refreshed with everything else already stored. In some cases, it can operate entirely offline, for example if it’s a tool-based app instead of news based.

Being able to access native mobile phone features can also be the deciding factor between a web app or native app.

The advantages and disadvantages of web and native mobile apps

Having explained the characteristics and differences between web and native mobile applications, let’s narrow down the advantages and disadvantages of each application technology.

Web app advantages

  • Faster application development cycles
  • Lower cost required to build a web app
  • Easier to update and add new features
  • New app releases are automatically served to the customer
  • Compatible on every smartphone device with a browser
  • No need to get the app approved by Apple or Google before launch
  • No 30% revenue sharing with the app stores

Web app disadvantages

  • Web apps require a network connection to function
  • User interface not locked down can cause inconsistently designed screens
  • Cannot utilize the advanced native features on mobile phones
  • Performance and slower overall user experience
  • Require more data usage, a big negative for people with limited data plans

Native mobile app advantages

  • Listed in the app stores and shown to millions of users for free
  • The best performance experience and optimized to the target device
  • The UX and UI are designed for the platform resulting in a better intuitive user experience
  • Allow app developers to access the complete feature set of target devices
  • Better overall security as it’s not dependent on browsers patching security holes
  • High offline performance as most app data is already on the device
  • Great choices for mobile advertising platforms if the app is ad-revenue based

Native mobile app disadvantages

  • It is most costly to create a native app
  • Longer development time
  • 30% profit sharing in the Android and iOS app stores
  • With each new Android and iOS platform operating system rollout, the app may need to be updated
  • Require approval from the app stores before launch
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Which app technology that would be best for your application depends on its purpose and audience demographic. Once that is decided it is much easier to choose which application method will be the most cost-effective, give the best user experience, be the most lucrative and in the end be the one with the most successful outcome.

Inspire Visual is an award-winning app agency with a proven track record of success. We serve clients worldwide and only assign senior developers and designers to work on all our projects.

If you have an app project you need help with, we’re happy to discuss it with you and give you an idea of development timeline, cost and whether you should develop a native app or web app. Give us a call or send an email to get started.

We are an mobile app development agency and can help with your Android / iOS app.

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About Inspire Visual
At Inspire Visual, we believe that compelling design, functionality and content help drive effective results. That’s why we work hard to provide innovative, visually inspiring and functionally sound solutions to address your marketing challenges and extend your brand’s reach.

We offer decades of experience helping brands worldwide with websites, mobile app development, email marketing, direct mail campaigns, brand identity design, UI/UX, graphic design, print design, tradeshow design and more. We feel privileged to be allowed into our clients’ businesses, and we strive to provide personal service and close collaboration throughout your project.

Call 407.476.1950 or email [email protected] to contact us, so we can meet you, learn more about your business and answer any questions you have. We’d love to connect with you!


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