The Critical Question for Developers: Native or Web Based App?

Our mobile phone dependency is real. A recent study found that the average American checks his or her phone every 12 minutes, looking at the device more than 80 times over the course of each day. For most of us, it’s the last thing we see before we go to sleep, and the first thing we look at when we wake up. For better or worse, smartphones have become an integral component to how we inform, entertain and organize ourselves on a day-to-day basis.

Knowing this, marketers are looking for every opportunity to grab a share of these small screens and connect with target audiences throughout these 80 daily interactions. When it comes to creating an app, there are generally two distinct approaches to development. Native apps are developed specifically for use on a particular mobile operating system, and are downloaded to a user’s device through an app store. Web based apps offer a mobile optimized experience accessed over a network connection, typically through a browser.

If you are considering developing an app, it is important to weigh the pros and cons to each approach before deciding on which makes the most sense for you. For every benefit gained with one method, there is likely a sacrifice to consider. To help determine which development approach is right for your next app project, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How much do I have to spend on this project?
    Obviously, budget is a primary consideration in any marketing project. It is particularly important to define your budget parameters at the start of an app development project as the two approaches can vary greatly in cost. Native apps require a specialized developer and typically require a significantly higher number of hours to complete. This makes the cost of a native app considerably higher than that of a web based app which can be built by a broader range of developers familiar with programming in HTML or CSS.
  2. How will my app be found?
    If your audience will be looking for you in the app store, you’ll need to consider a native app. These apps are approved by and listed in the official app stores for Apple and Android devices where they can be found and downloaded by users. Web based apps won’t appear in these stores, but can easily be found via web search or direct URL. They can also be pinned to a user’s smartphone to be easily accessed again in the future.
  3. Will the app need an internet connection to function?
    One of the key benefits of a native app is that once downloaded and installed on the phone, it will not require an internet connection unless pulling frequently updated dynamic content (i.e. news or social media apps.) Because web based apps are loaded as a standard website via a browser, an internet connection is required. This may not be much of a concern given that today’s mobile user is almost always connected to data, and advancements in web app development could eliminate the need for connectivity.
  4. How important are future updates to the app?
    Given the complexity of development and review process involved, making updates to a native app can be a labor intensive and time consuming process. Edits and updates are generally much easier to make on a web based app. More frequent updates to the app could be an important factor in retaining users, as studies show that one in four users will abandon an app after a single use.
  5. Will the app need access to other functions of the phone?
    One of the key benefits to native apps is the integration with other features and functions built into the phone. This can include more involved features such as the camera or accelerometer as well as integration with the phone’s built in push notification system. Web based apps cannot access these features.
  6. When will you need the app ready?
    If budget is a primary driver of any marketing project, timing is probably a close second. The same restrictions that make development of a native app more costly than that of a web based app can also add significant length to the project time. If your project requires a quicker turnaround, developing a web based app will almost always provide a faster solution.

While there are certainly other considerations that will factor into your next app project, answering these six questions will provide a great starting point and should help you decide which development approach offers you the best fit.

Article originally appeared in Website Magazine.