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Mobile applications versus web applications. How are they different?

Users of mobile devices use various types of applications for the vast majority of the time they spend on smartphones and tablets. They browse websites much less frequently. Therefore, investing in applications is very profitable. However, there are many solutions to choose from. What are their features?

hands over virtual icons

Native mobile applications

Native applications are built for a particular operating system, mostly for Android or iOS. We can find them in the Google Play store and App Store, respectively. Applications written this way include WhatsApp, Spotify, Facebook and Pokemon GO.

Basic features of native mobile applications:

  • take full advantage of the device's features, such as gestures, camera, microphone or sensors. They also use push notifications. Developers have full access to the API and tools of a given platform,
  • it is possible to use the latest programming tools of the platform, which gives the opportunity to support the latest features,
  • high performance, especially for applications that use 3d graphics (like some games),
  • adhere to the interface standards of the respective platform. It is intuitive and familiar for the user, which translates into a higher UX level,
  • are built using programming languages appropriate for each platform. For Android, it is primarily Java, C ++ or Python and for iOS Swift and Objective-C
  • due to the fact that they are created for a specific platform, if we want to introduce a product for both Android and iOS, we have to build two development teams. This translates into greater cost and time of application development,
  • they have a lower risk of errors than hybrid applications. They are also safer,
  • they can run offline.

Hybrid mobile applications

These types of applications can run on both Android and iOS devices. Applications such as Twitter, Gmail, Evernote or Instagram are written this way. They are displayed using an application overlay that is invisible to the user and are installed on the device in the same way as native applications.

The most important features of hybrid applications are:

  • to create an application that works on both systems, we only need one development team, which makes development cheaper than in the case of native applications,
  • they are written using popular internet languages such as Javascript (ReactNative), Dart (Flutter), C # (Xamarin). For this reason, it is easier to find specialists for the development team and the recruitment process may be faster,
  • they are less efficient than native applications in the case of handling complex graphics, e.g. 3D (therefore less suitable for creating graphically demanding games),
  • they do not have full access to all functions of the device. In order to be able to use certain functionalities, developers sometimes have to use appropriate plugins or possibly write their own, which increases the cost of development,
  • UX is a bit more difficult than in native applications due to the maladjustment of the user interface of a given system.
  • can run offline

It should be added that frameworks such as React Native, Flutter or Xamarin allow us to transcribe the code of individual technologies into the code of native applications. In this way, it breaks the limitations of PWA applications, increasing efficiency or access to device functions.

mobile device in hands


PWA (Progressive Web Apps) behave like mobile applications, even if, in fact, it is a website. You can use them after installation on a mobile device or using a computer. On smartphones and tablets they are displayed using the browser mechanism, but without its main page. Examples of apps written this way include Uber, Pinterest, and Starbucks.

The basic features of PWA:

  • they are created on the basis of an existing website and content is managed with a single CMS. This facilitates the work of administrators,
  • allow you to use many functions of the device, such as microphone, camera or geolocation (usually not all, unlike native or hybrid applications). They support push notifications,
  • creating them is much cheaper than other types of mobile applications,
  • can run offline. If your smartphone or tablet is connected to the internet, your content will buffer. When the device is outside the network coverage, they are loaded from the cache,
  • users always have access to the current version, without the need to update the application,
  • they run faster than web applications, enabling, among others smooth page scrolling and animation support. However, their performance is slightly lower than that of native applications,
  • thanks to the application icon on the device's desktop, the logo becomes memorable to the user (unlike in the case of a website).
mobile device with multiple icons illustrated

Web applications

Web applications are used via a web browser. On a smartphone or tablet, they behave similarly to a website on a computer (adapted to mobile devices - RWD). However, they do not require installation, and a browser window is displayed when using them. Examples of web-based services are Netflix, Canva and Amazon.

The basic features of web applications:

  • they work on all mobile devices as well as computers. This lowers the development costs,
  • popular languages such as PHP, Python, ASP.NET, React, Angular with the use of HTML, Javascript and CSS are used to create them. For this reason, one can build a development team faster and they are easy to maintain,
  • they do not require updating, the user always has access to the latest version,
  • you do not need to download or install them,
  • their delivery to the market is faster due to one centralized form of operation,
  • theyappear on the list of search engine results,
  • to use them, users must be connected to the Internet,
  • they are not present in application stores, and therefore cannot be considered strictly as mobile applications,
  • device functions are used to a minimum extent,
  • their UX is adapted to the requirements of the website and not the mobile application,
  • they are less efficient than mobile applications.

Making the right choice.

When deciding on the type of application, we should consider many factors, bearing in mind, above all, the needs of our company. For example, the cost of development and maintenance, as well as the time of delivering the application on to the market, will be important here. Let's take into account our priorities: how important are the following: performance, UX, access to device functions or the ability to operate offline.

It is impossible to recommend one type of application, because each project has its own specificity. Therefore, we conduct design workshops with you to get to know your needs step by step. During them, we offer you the optimal type of application. Contact us and let's create it together!!

mobile applicationsweb applicationsPWA
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