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App Development
6 minutes read

Build a Mobile Web App: Why Do You Need One?

By Jose Gomez
By Jose Gomez
App Development
6 minutes read

There are many different approaches to mobile app development, but you may not have thought to build a mobile web app. Mobile web apps offer businesses unique advantages compared to the other types of mobile apps they could create. However, there is a lot of confusion about mobile web apps and what they are. 

This post will clarify the term mobile web app and explain how it differs from other mobile app development approaches. In doing so, we will explore why building a mobile web app could be beneficial for your business. 

What is a Mobile Web App?

A mobile web app is an Internet-enabled app that is accessed through a mobile device’s browser and includes mobile-specific functions. These apps do not have to be downloaded or installed on a mobile device. This can be confusing because that definition sounds like a website, and truthfully, there are few differences between modern websites and web apps

An easy way to differentiate between a web app and website is to look for User Interface elements. Websites are typically considered to be an internet resource that passively conveys information. Think about a website like Wikipedia. Once User Interface elements like a chat module or like button are added, it is considered a web app. If you’ve ever used browser versions of social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, you will recognize web apps. 

This information also applies to mobile websites and mobile web apps. If you visit Twitter or Facebook in your mobile device's browser, you will see good examples of mobile web apps. Mobile web apps provide a lot of interactive functionality similar to a mobile app. They are more than just a responsive website, and they are specifically designed and optimized to provide User Interface elements commonly found in mobile apps. 

Comparing Mobile Web Apps to Other Mobile App Development Choices 

There are a few different ways to build a good app. In addition to the mobile web app, there are native apps and hybrid apps. Later, we will cover Progressive Web Apps as well. There are advantages and disadvantages to each mobile app development approach. Let’s take a closer look at how mobile web apps compare with native and hybrid apps so that your business can get a better sense of which options best fit your needs. 

Native App Vs. Mobile Web App

Native apps are platform-specific mobile apps built specifically for a single operating system and set of devices. The two leading mobile platforms are Android and iOS. Native development uses specific programming languages and SDKs unique to the platform the app is being developed for. 

Native apps are the best at utilizing the specific hardware and features present on each mobile device. However, since native apps are platform-specific, they won’t function on the other platform. Therefore, if you want to reach Android and iOS users, you must create two native apps. 

Mobile web apps offer businesses the ability to reach users on any device as long as they have an Internet connection. Mobile web apps are built using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to be used on any mobile browser. This is a huge advantage for businesses without the time or resources to develop separate apps for Android and iOS mobile devices. Additionally, mobile web apps are search indexable, so users can come across your app while they are online. 

However, mobile web apps rely on an Internet connection. Your users won’t be able to use your mobile web app if they don’t have an Internet connection. Native apps are downloaded and installed on the user’s device. You can’t always guarantee that your users will be able to access the Internet. However, mobile web apps don’t have to go through an app store approval process, and you know that users are always using the most updated version of your app. 

Mobile web apps will only have limited access to a mobile device’s native features such as the camera and microphone. 

Hybrid App Vs. Mobile Web App

Hybrid apps are mobile apps that utilize a single codebase but can be deployed on both Android and iOS devices. Instead of using platform-specific programming languages like Swift and Kotlin, hybrid apps are built using JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. Thus, hybrid apps are a mix of native and web apps

Hybrid apps are built using the same technologies as mobile web apps, but they have to be downloaded on a user’s mobile device. This is great because hybrid apps don’t have to rely on an Internet connection to work for users, but they must be approved by app store guidelines and downloaded through a store. Additionally, hybrid apps won’t be able to gain full access to a device’s native features. 

Your business might want to choose a hybrid app over a mobile web app if you want your users to interact with your app traditionally and have offline access. However, the traditional hybrid app and mobile web app approaches are quickly being outpaced by Progressive Web Apps. 

Progressive Web Apps 

Before we explore Progressive Web Apps, let’s quickly summarize the strengths and weaknesses of mobile web apps. 

Strengths:

  • Single codebase 
  • Cross-platform 
  • No app store approval required 
  • Users always have the most updated version of the app

Weaknesses: 

  • Requires an Internet connection
  • Unable to be downloaded to a user’s device 
  • Limited to no access to native features 

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are changing the future of mobile web apps and mobile app development. Just like hybrid and mobile web apps, PWAs are built using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. PWAs are accessed through a mobile browser like mobile web apps, but PWAs can also be downloaded directly from the browser and saved to a user’s device like a native or hybrid app. 

Progressive Web Apps have greater access to native features than either hybrid or mobile web apps. Once PWAs have been installed on a user's device, they can be used offline and perform other app-like functions like sending push notifications. Since PWAs are accessed through the browser, they are cross-platform, and they don’t have to go through an app store approval process either. 

If your business is interested in mobile web apps, Progressive Web Apps are the best development option you can make for your users. 

Final Thoughts 

Mobile web apps offer businesses distinct advantages over native and hybrid app development. However, the Progressive Web App (PWA) is the most robust mobile web app development available today. If you need help determining the best mobile app development approach for your business, reach out to an app development partner. A partner will use their technical expertise and industry experience to help you build a mobile web app that meets all of your business needs.

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