January 9, 2023

Web Apps vs. Mobile Apps—Which Is Right for Your Product?

Dylan LeBeau

Creative Copy Lead

You have an idea for a killer app. It’s something that doesn’t exist right now, or if it does, you know how to do it in a better, more innovative way. You’re motivated and energized by the possibilities of your product when a major question hits you: How do I get this thing into peoples’ hands?

As it turns out, you have two options for developing your app—build it for the web or build it for mobile. But what’s the difference between the two? Is one option better than the other? And how do you decide which is right for your product?

At CrateBind, we've had the opportunity to work with clients building both web and mobile apps across a variety of industries. Since this question comes up all the time for our clients, we’ve put together a helpful list of things to ask when it does.

Looking for a quick recommendation on a direction for your app? Answer six questions and we’ll give you one!

What’s the difference between web apps and mobile apps?

It can be a little confusing to sort through the technical jargon, so let’s start with some simple definitions.

Web apps are applications that can be accessed from a remote server through a web browser connected to the internet. There are no downloads or installations required for web apps, and they’re built to be interactive as opposed to the static content of a simple website.

Mobile apps (also known as native apps) are installed directly on a user’s device through an app store. Once downloaded, they can run without an internet connection and have access to device-specific features, like a phone’s camera or GPS.

The key difference between web apps and mobile apps is how a user accesses them. Web apps require connecting via web browser (which can be done through a mobile device), while mobile apps require direct download and installation. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with each, and determining the right one depends on your product.

Should I build a web app or a mobile app?

This is a great question, and one you should consider early on in developing your product strategy. Choosing between building a web app and building a mobile app comes down to three main questions: Who, what, and how?

  1. Who are you building your app for?

Before deciding which type of app to build, you need to think about your target market. What does your ideal user look like? Where do they spend most of their time? How are you going to effectively reach them?

One of the key advantages of building a web app is the potential for a broad reach. Web apps can be easily accessed across almost any device with a web browser, and sharing a web app with others is as simple as sending a URL. If your product strategy depends on reaching as many people as possible, you should consider building a web app.

If how often users access your app is more important than how many users do, building a mobile app might be a better solution. Discoverability is harder to come by for mobile apps, but the ease of use makes up for this shortcoming. Just think about how many times per day you pull up your favorite mobile apps—it’s hard to avoid when they’re a quick tap away.

Let’s talk demographics. If your app is targeting business professionals, it would make sense to build a web app, since most of this audience spends the majority of their day in front of a computer. Integrating a new app into previously established workflows can be difficult—you want to position yourself in a way that makes it as seamless as possible for potential users.

On the other hand, if your app is geared toward people outside of work, a mobile app may be the better option. These days, people are more connected to their phones than ever, and the convenience of easily accessing your mobile app natively on their devices could drive more engagement than directing users to a website.

  1. What do you want your app to do?

Functionality is one of the most important factors to consider when weighing your options between a web app and a mobile app. While web apps and mobile apps overlap quite a bit in terms of what they can do, there are strengths associated with each approach. Choosing between the two depends on your goals.

Web apps are particularly good for complex products that include a lot of information and interaction, as it can be difficult to fit these things on a smaller screen. Filling out long forms or signing up for an account is easier to do through a web app, for example. And if you’re handling subscription payments, building a web app means you’ll avoid the fees that mobile app stores charge.

As we’ve mentioned, mobile apps have the ability to more effectively access device-specific features on a user’s phone. This includes things like the camera, gyroscope, and GPS technology—especially critical for products that require geolocation. While some of these features are possible with web apps, they will generally work better natively on a user’s device.

Another key benefit of building a mobile app is the ability to use push notifications. These automated messages can be sent by your app to alert a user to a new feature or update even when the app isn’t open. Push notifications are a great way to drive engagement and remind users of the value of your product.

  1. How much time and money do you have to spend?

If you’ve done much research into the debate between web apps and mobile apps, you’ve seen this question come up the most. Historically, time and money have been the biggest deciding factors for the direction of app development. These days, however, the landscape is quite different.

For a long time, conventional thinking has been that mobile app development is more costly and time-consuming than building for the web. Different mobile platforms have specific requirements, so you’ve always needed platform-specific developers to work on different versions of your app.

Luckily, that isn’t the case any more. Thanks to advancing technology, tools like React Native now allow developers to create a single codebase that can be shared across platforms, freeing up resources and increasing flexibility. Mobile apps can now be deployed and updated just as efficiently as web apps.

While you should certainly keep your budget and timeline in mind when making a decision for your product, it’s no longer the ultimate question it once was. Both mobile apps and web apps are viable options for those who want to bring a product to market quickly and cost-effectively. 

How do I build a web app or mobile app?

We’d love to chat with you about your product and how building a web app or mobile app can help you reach your goals. Whether you have a product team in place and need a few extra hands, or you have a vision and need help with the execution, CrateBind is here for you.

Every product is different, and there are plenty of creative solutions for building MVPs and testing out brilliant ideas—even beyond the two discussed here. If you’re ready to discover which direction works best for you, book a meeting with us today.