I’ve read at least a dozen different articles about the difference between native apps and mobile web apps, and a common theme among them is the general conclusion that both are fantastic, each for different reasons. Many suggest that you can choose either of them and the results will be simply splendid, perhaps the best investment you’ve ever made.
Sorry to break it to you, but I’m just going to say it: Native apps are like Han Solo; it doesn’t get any cooler. Web apps are like C-3PO; they try, but mostly you just feel bad for them.
The most critical rationale for why native apps are hands-down winners is that they have extensive functionality, while mobile web apps are extremely limited in what they’re capable of doing. A native app can use features that are made possible through the hardware such as geo-location, GPS, Bluetooth, accelerometer, gyroscope, the address book, the camera, and more. Mobile web apps can’t use any of these features, because they work within the web browser instead of through the device itself. Oh yeah, and the features that a mobile web app can pull off have a downside: they only work with an internet connection. Most native apps are partially or fully functional without the internet. Can you imagine if your lightsaber only worked when you were online? Good luck with that.
If the battle was based only on functionality alone, then native has already won. The mobile web app might be able to get a hit in here and there, but we all know native apps are blowing up the Death Star while web apps are crawling home to their mothers (would that be their software developers?). But the battle doesn’t end there.
Native apps also get the benefit of distribution through app stores, where they may be highlighted as a featured app. App stores can increase visibility and drive tremendous amounts of traffic to your app without you having to lift a finger. Mobile web apps are never going to be featured as “what’s new” or one of Apple’s editors’ top picks.
Location is another advantage for a native app – it is installed directly on the device, where the icon has its own piece of real estate. This makes it quicker and easier for customers to find you, and seeing that icon on a regular basis makes it unlikely they’ll forget about you. Notice a connection? The champion is the one that people remember. The defeated is out of the picture.
Did I mention that native apps also run faster than mobile web apps? It’s true. And when you’re in an epic battle, speed is kind of a big deal. The story doesn’t end well for the guy who was too slow to move and got sliced in half.
Now you understand why a native app’s lightsaber would be bigger and more powerful than the weak, amateur lightsaber of a mobile web app. The native app’s lightsaber would also have extra features, like the ability to take a video of itself crushing the mobile web app. It might also be glittery or accented with diamonds, because that would make it prettier and more fun to use.
Clearly, mobile web apps wouldn’t stand a chance in an epic battle against a native mobile app. I know that statement will surely invoke the rebuttals of many who tout the great capacity of mobile web apps. I’d love to hear it: What is your opinion? Do you agree with the argument I’ve presented, or do you think mobile web apps are the true rockstars of the app world? Let us know in the comments!