Mobile Web and Native Apps: What’s the Difference?

Mobile Web and Native Apps: What’s the Difference?



Mobile Website Native App Feature Image

Everyone’s heard the term “app” thrown around, but many don’t know the difference between a mobile web and native apps. In essence, the big difference is as follows: It comes down to where each of them lives, so to speak. Whether you want to call them mobile apps, responsive sites or mobile sites, the point is that web apps live on the Internet. In stark contrast, native apps live on the handheld device itself. There’s even a third choice, which is the hybrid app.

Now days it’s becoming difficult to distinguishing between the mobile web and native apps. Nonetheless, important differences remain, and we’ll walk you through them.

What the Mobile Web Is

While you may have been duped into thinking otherwise, a mobile website or mobile app is actually a website that you can access on your handheld device. Though they may appear like a native app, they definitely aren’t implemented as such. [1] Usually written in HTML5 and accessed by a browser, a mobile site has a special URL. The user can even “install” the mobile site on his homepage by simply bookmarking that page.

Mobile Website Native App 1

What a Native App Is

In this corner, we have the native app. As explained above, it lives on your handheld device. Accessed through the icons that you see on your device’s home screen, it needs to be installed via an app store such as the Apple App Store or Google Play. Only developed particularly for one platform, it can utilize all of the features of the device. This means that a native app can utilize your device’s camera, its contact list, its compass, its GPS and much more. It also supports gestures (whether it’s an app-defined gesture or a more standard one based on an operating system), working offline and the device’s notification system.

Mobile Website Native App 2What a Hybrid App Is

A hybrid app is essentially a mix of both a mobile website and a native app. For instance, it needs HTML to be rendered in a browser (just like a mobile site), but it also exists in an app store and utilizes a lot of the features of your device.

Mobile Website Native App 3

Much of the time, a hybrid app will be created as a so-called wrapper for an already live webpage. This is usually because the app creator wishes to obtain a presence in an app store, but without expending material effort on developing a completely different app. Another reason for the popularity of these apps is the reduction of development costs that comes by way of cross-platform development.

Which One Is Better?

Both mobile sites and native apps have their pros and cons that we’ll look into in more detail below.

Mobile Website Native App 4

When Considering Features:

If your main concern is having a myriad of features from which to choose, then use as many native apps as you can. Native apps have access to the whole boatload of device-exclusive features like notifications, camera and GPS, to name just a few.

When Considering the Type of Business You Are:

A business that mainly interacts with its customers in person or on the phone likely doesn’t need a mobile app. A regular, old mobile website will do. However, if your business is one that offers an existing web service that caters to user logins and account management, then the native app is the way to go because it’s handier and more convenient. [2]

When Considering Installation:

Mobile websites are easier to install than native apps. When you “install” a mobile website, you just have to create a bookmark on your home screen. However, installing a native app means downloading it from an app store, which takes longer and also has to get over the hurdle of the user first justifying the effort to do so.

When Considering the User Interface:

Native apps are your best bet if you’re looking for an experience where the user interface is made a priority. Native apps are your best bet since they offer a user experience that corresponds with both the operating system and most other apps that are accessible on the same platform. In short, if you want elements like visuals and graphics to be the same or nearly the same as what you’re used to on a platform, then you’ll want the native app.

It Comes Down to Preference

As you can see, both mobile websites and native apps have their pros and cons. Each is also better for specific situations which the other’s not well-suited for. Mobile websites or mobile apps started to get increasingly popular due to the use of HTML5: This made more users aware of the fact that they could achieve native-like functionality right in their browsers.

Mobile Website Native App 5

At the end of the day, both types have their strong suits, but it all comes down to what you want to use the app for on your handheld device. If you can’t decide between the two, then you may want to try hybrid apps to see if you can get a better balanced performance.


[1] Mobile: Native Apps, Web Apps and Hybrid Apps

[2] Should You Build a Responsive Site or a Native Mobile App?


Tweet this: Mobile websites are easier to install than native apps.

Tweet this: Both mobile web & native apps have their strong suits, but it all comes down to what you want to use the app for.

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Marc is a copywriter, blogger and editor who writes about web design, marketing, photography, politics and entertainment. He serves up insightful info on content marketing and web design.