Mobile Web vs Native App – Which Do I Need?
May 19, 2014

web-app-vs-native-app, app development companies

It’s true – there is a clear trend we are abandoning our desktops and hopping on phones and tablets to access the Internet. 2014 figures range from 23 – 55% of users Interneting via mobile, with the heaviest mobile useage, 55%, occurring in the United States.

So we don’t need to spend any time convincing you:

  1. You need a web option for your business.
  2. A percentage of users will access via mobile device.

Phew, that’s out of the way. The conversation, rather, is around how you want your users to interact with your site – mobile web or native app. Mobile web is typically the cheaper upfront option, which allows space for small businesses to find reason to avoid the expense of building a native app.

Yet the app is increasingly taking over the mobile market, largely due to superior UX, are generally more powerful and are very much a hip trend. 2014 research in a much cited Flurry study shows that apps, “commanded 86% of the average US mobile consumer’s time, or 2 hrs and 19 minutes per day.”

Most of that time, 60%, is spent on gaming and social media sites, clearly demonstrating the entertainment component of the native app. That’s right, we haven’t completely forgotten about wonderful wastes of time like playing Angry or Floppy Birds.

Fun components aside, at what point does your growing business need a native app – or do you even need one? If we know that internet users are increasingly accessing via mobile, and most of that time is spent via native app, the last thing you want to do is get left behind without providing the option users are clearly demanding. Here are some considerations to help you make the decision to go app or opt not:

Your Specific Business Needs

As with anything, the decision is based first on careful consideration of your particular business and customers. What do you sell and what are your clients like? Social? Utilities? Marketplaces? Then let’s be crazy honest, an app is for you. But if you, say, work with clients primarily on a face-to-face basis as a small restaurant, coffee shop, or even as a lawyer, you can likely get away with a well thought out responsive design. Additionally if you rely on search engine traffic, that’s a good indicator you can perhaps stick with mobile web.


Mobile commerce (mcommerce) is anticipated to continue trending upward as we march on through the 21st century. A recent study predicts that 25% of commerce will take place on mobile by 2017, which again is a helpful reminder that your users are on mobile.

If you have a commerce option, there certainly are ways via mobile web to effectively facilitate transactions. But if you are selling, you want users to consistently keep buying – and the native app has been found to be linked to brand loyalty.

Customer and Brand Loyalty

Get real with yourself – do you have loyal customers and/or solid brand recognition? Native app is best for when you have a loyal customer base.

For example, I have a smartphone like most breathing Americans, but it can take me a while to make the commitment to download a mobile app. Often when I visit sites I’ll be asked to “Download our App!” which I often bypass the first time I see this suggestion. You may behave differently in your Interweb mobile browsing, but to me, often times I just want the information I’m looking for and to be done with it.

But as time goes on and I use a service more than once, I’ll make that 2 minute commitment to download an app. I eventually come to the realization the app will be much easier for me to access if I’m going to continue visiting.

While I still deal with download commitment phobia, it is clear that engagement on the native app is increasing as, “the average time spent with mobile apps in the U.S. grew 35% in 2012 to 127 minutes per day, while average time on the web declined 2.4% to only 70 minutes per day.”


How important is it to provide your users with a fast response? Yes, anyone would say, “Very important!” Yet in all honesty, not every site needs a speedy user experience – but you might.

One of our favorite things about Native apps is how one tap will instantly move the user on to where they want to go. Much faster than irritatingly pausing for that please-wait-while-we’re-connecting-to-the-internet spinner to finally stop.

The other consideration is if you do want the superior responsiveness of a Native app, you will likely be trading for a lower accessibility than you can achieve with mobile web.

End Goals

At the end of the day, what are you after? Whether it’s to sell more, increase engagement, or communicate in a more targeted way, arguments can be made for either native app or mobile web. The superior UX of a Native app will likely encourage greater activity as they encourage a deeper engagement with the user. But if you are trying to get as many people to your site as possible without a significant number of features available, you can likely get away with a mobile site.

Remember, responsive is not just about fitting everything on the screen. Native app is not just about joining the trends. Your company has a specific set of needs and so do you. As we continue to track mobile usage, it seems clear that users will continue to download apps – and if you have an idea for an app, yours should be one of them.

by Joni Erdmann








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