Should you make a mobile app or a web app?

Phase Idea
Photo by Balázs Kétyi on Unsplash

Did you know there are two types of apps you could make? App stands for application. An application is also known as a software program. Typically when people use the word app, they are referring to a software program used on a mobile device such as an Android or iPhone, also known as a "mobile app". But an app can also refer to a software program accessed online via a browser like Chrome or Safari. These are called web apps.

Web apps are sometimes confused with websites but there’s a fundamental difference between them. On a website, you’re mostly taking in information. A web app’s purpose is to help you perform or accomplish a task. It’s defined by user interaction.

The main difference between a mobile app and a web app is how they are accessed and therefore how they are built.

A web application (web app) is a software program that is delivered over the Internet through a browser interface. A mobile application (mobile app) is a software program designed to be installed and run directly on a mobile device.

Mobile apps are notoriously harder to build than web apps. Additionally, because of the extra step a user has to take to download a mobile app, adoption and retention are much harder to earn. Therefore, it’s important to make sure your efforts are in the right place. Sometimes it might make sense to make a mobile-friendly web app first and expand to create a mobile app later.

How do you determine which to start with? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Do you expect routine or recurring usage? Think daily or weekly to warrant downloading the app from the app store. Eg. Instagram, Budget, Health Apps.
  • Do you expect it to be used offline? Think when people don't have access to an internet connection and they may want to access the app. Eg. Kindle.
  • Do you need access to mobile device capabilities such as location services, camera, integrated payments, notifications etc? Eg. Snapchat, CitiBike.
  • Do you expect it to be used on the go? Think when people are outside or traveling and need quick access to the app. Eg. Uber, Lyft, Google Maps.

If none of the above apply, you should start by making a mobile-friendly web app.

A mobile-friendly web app is a web app that’s designed to work on smaller screens such as those on a mobile device. This is possible through responsive web design. Responsive web design is an approach that makes use of flexible layouts and other methods to ensure a web app is accessible and usable on devices of any size.

You can always make a mobile app later.

Here’s the thing, not now doesn’t mean never. Once your user base has grown and the idea has scaled, then you can consider expanding to make a mobile app (or vice versa).

Deciding whether to make a mobile app or a web app is a foundational decision that will determine the future of your app. Especially when you’re limited in funds and resources. Take time to really think about the motivations behind your choice before moving forward. Whichever one you decide to make, I’ll be here to help you every step of the way.