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The Native App vs Web App Debate: Why Mobile Web Apps Win

At one time, there were many pros and cons for both native app vs web app solutions. However, the scales are definitely weighted toward applications that are delivered to mobile devices from the web. The advent of progressive web apps has changed the landscape for good. Here’s why.

Why Choose Mobile Web App vs Native App Development for Enterprise?

For enterprise use cases, native apps are on the way out, at least when it comes to building new applications. They take longer to develop and must be built for a specific operating system. This means an organization needs access to multiple developers with skill sets to build for each platform. Plus, they have to develop at a lower level in the stack rather than focusing on the overall architecture and purpose of the app.

With a complex app, native vs web introduces additional complications. A different app with a separate code base is required for iOS, Android, and web. This means every update requires changes in three different places, making serviceability an issue over the lifecycle of the application. Some tools can make it easier, but the process is still difficult.

Deployment at the device level is another challenge. It has to be done on each device individually. Even if an app is in the Apple store or Google Play Store, there still is manual effort to load it onto a device. Running all updates through app stores can pose additional obstacles compared to having full control over the deployment and maintenance of enterprise apps.

Why the Native vs. Web App Debate Used to Be a Close Call

In the early days, web applications often provided a very poor user experience. They were intended to be used on a desktop or laptop, present a lot of features, and be viewed on a full screen. Taking the same URL meant shrinking it down to a tiny screen. The results were unpredictable and undesirable:

  • Fields overflowed off the screen, making it hard to find information
  • Users couldn’t simply scroll down to find information and perform actions
  • Buttons could end up hidden or inaccessible, rendering the application useless
  • Font sizes were often too small to read (and zooming in to make the text bigger meant users had to scroll horizontally to read it all.)

Later versions of apps on responsive web sites could at least move fields around and change the layout to make things easier to find and use. With the advent of “mobile first” application strategy, workarounds like hybrid apps helped with some of these issues by making web apps more mobile friendly. Unfortunately, hybrid apps simply wrapped a native container around a web-based app. Developers still had to know how to write and maintain code across multiple operating systems.

It was the introduction of progressive web apps (PWAs) that really changed the conversation.

Benefits of Progressive Web Apps

Development of a progressive web app vs native app means that native platform skillsets aren’t needed. The focus is on building to exactly meet the use case and deliver an optimal user experience rather than to meet the requirements of a native mobile platform.

  • PWAs can be built once and run on every OS and every device.
  • Only a single code base is built and deployed, greatly simplifying maintenance.
  • All users instantly and automatically access the latest, best version of the code when it goes live, with no user-side action required to trigger the update.
  • PWAs can detect the device type and use native hardware with ease.
  • PWAs take far less time, effort, and cost compared to mobile application development

Web Apps vs Native Apps for Tablets in the Workplace

Since PWAs are truly mobile first, they aren’t just responsive but intended to have all elements easily resized between devices. Because it is easier to make things bigger than smaller, starting with the mobile version and scaling to a bigger screen works well for maintaining a good user experience. But how small of a screen should you start with?

For enterprise mobile apps in particular, workers in a business environment or in the field are often using a tablet rather than a phone. Progressive web apps are well suited for this middle ground since there is a little more real estate to play with to create a feature-rich mobile app.

At ACBM, we often approach mobile app development with a “tablet first” mentality since that is the most common device for our clients’ user base. We find that a mobile app designed for a tablet still works well on both a phone and a desktop. The apps even scale down to use on a scanner gun (which has a smaller screen than a phone) in a warehouse environment. This is another example of how progressive web apps truly do work everywhere. Click here to learn more about ACBM's approach to custom mobile application development.

Want to explore progressive web app development for your business use case? Contact our team today.

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