Mobile Apps are gaining increasing popularity and great for many types of use cases. However, mobile websites can also very powerful and can be better suited in some cases. We will compare mobile apps with mobile websites and look at the differences, advantages and disadvantages.

Functionality

Whilst mobile apps and mobile websites both run on mobile phones (or tablets), the types of functionality offered can differ. A mobile app is able to offer a wider range of functionality as it has more permissions than a mobile website. The types of functionality that only a mobile app can offer include:

  • Advanced push notifications
  • Bluetooth and NFC
  • High quality graphics
  • Access to contact list
  • Access to calendar
  • Health activity
  • Smart device interaction
  • Alerts/vibration
  • Easy in-app purchases

With modern web browsers, mobile websites can also access some functionality such as GPS, camera and simple push notifications. However compared to a mobile app, that access is more restricted. For example, GPS can be used in the background on a mobile app.

Offline Ability

A mobile website will typically always require an internet connection. However mobile apps are able to function completely offline. It does, of course, depend on what the app does, but if it doesn’t rely on external / real-time data it will be able to function offline. This can be a benefit for cases where there is no signal available.

Ease of Access and App Store Acceptance

In order to be used, a mobile app must first be downloaded from an app store – such as the Apple App Store or Google Play. To get the app into the app store in the first place requires the app to go through a fairly rigorous approval process, including signing up for developer accounts. Apple in particular have some strict policies, particularly in terms of how payments are handled, as they really push in-app purchases, rather than 3rd party payments.

In contrast, a mobile website is very easy for a user to access (they just type in the URL into their browser) and does not require an approval process.

Ease of Making Updates

Modern mobile websites are easy to update and a user will instantly see the changes. Mobile apps are more complex to update  – with more testing needed, plus the app store approval process to go through – for every change. So even a fairly simple change can mean waiting several days for the app stores to approve. Once approved, the user must then download the new version of the app – many users have this set to be done automatically, although some will manually do this when they wish.

Device Compatibility and User Reach

Mobile apps are able to be downloaded and installed on Android and Apple mobile phones and tablets. These devices have an operating system (e.g. iOS for Apple) and this has releases (e.g. iOS 13). Apps are developed (and the app stores insist on this) to be available for more recent releases of the operating system. This means that if somebody has an old phone and hasn’t updated the operating system, they may be unable to download new apps.

In comparison, mobile websites are available on any mobile phone and tablet using the standard web browser. If designed using a responsive framework (most are now), then it means the website is also available to be viewed on laptops, desktops and other, smaller devices with a web browser. This gives the advantage of a highly consistent experience whether using a computer or phone.

Development and Maintenance Costs

In terms of development cost, a mobile website will generally be cheaper to develop than a mobile app. Updates / maintenance will also cost less. When using cross-platform mobile app frameworks like Xamarin, the cost of a mobile app can be reduced compared to developing separate, native apps.

Summary

The decision as to whether a mobile app or mobile website is most appropriate depends on the factors outlined above. Mobile apps are able to access more functionality and processing power of the device, whilst websites are more accessible and come with a lower development cost.