How Do Native Apps and Web Apps Compare?
Two roads diverge on a tablet screen. One is the path to the native app, the other leads to the open web.
Luckily, you can take both. The latest mobile devices ship with a thoroughly modern browser capable of handling emerging web standards. Beneath that is a modern operating system with access to the magic inside the hardware: the camera, GPS, gyroscope and compass. But if you had to pick one — native app or web app — which would you choose? Your decision will make all the difference in how you approach your design, development and distribution.
|The Issues||Native Apps||Web Apps|
|Internet access||Not required||Required, except for rare apps with offline capability|
|Installation/updates||Must be deployed or downloaded||Hit refresh|
|Device compatibility||Platform-dependent, hardware-dependent||Platform-agnostic, content can be reformatted with CSS to suit any device|
|Animation/Graphics||Fast and responsive||Web apps are getting closer, but will probably always lag|
|Streaming media||Few problems with audio and video. Flash works, but only if the device supports it||Flash works where supported. Browser-based audio and video are getting there, but still beset by compatibility headaches. Give it a year or two|
|Fonts||Tight control over typefaces, layout||Almost on par, thanks to advancements in web standards. Give it six months|
|Is my content searchable?||Not on the web||By default|
|Sharable/Tweetable?||Only if you build it in||Web links are shared freely. Social APIs and widgets allow easy one-click posting|
|Discussion and collaboration||Only if you build it, and it’s more difficult if data is disparate||Discussion is easy, all data is stored on a server|
|Access to hardware sensors||Yes, all of them: camera, gyroscope, microphone, compass, accelerometer, GPS||Access through the browser is limited, though geolocation is common|
|Development||Specific tools required for some platforms (like Apple’s). You have to build a new app for each target platform||Write once, publish once, view it anywhere. Multiple tools and libraries to choose from|
|Can I sell it?||Charge whatever you want. Most app distributors take a slice, up to 30%||Advertising is tolerated, subscriptions and paywalls less so. No distribution costs beyond server fees|
|Distribution||Most app stores require approval. And you gotta wait||No such hassle|
|Outside access to your content||No, the reader must download your app||Yep, just click a link|
|Advertising||Control over design (though limited in iAds) and rate||More choices for design, plus access to web analytics. Rates vary widely|