App development for startups is a high-stakes endeavor. If your team decides to develop the wrong type of application, it’s nearly impossible to switch gears later on. You’d have to scrap the work and start fresh, forgoing any costs you’ve already incurred. If your application isn’t appealing or valuable to your target demographic because your team didn’t sufficiently understand the nuances between the two primary app types, you can stop your company’s growth right in its tracks. 

Most startups can only afford to develop a single application, so your brand must choose wisely. Mobile app? Or Web app? 

These are two different types of applications with unique advantages and disadvantages for each. Continue reading to learn the differences so your company can decide which development path to take.

What is a Mobile App?

Mobile apps, also known as native applications, are applications that are developed for specific mobile devices. We all install these applications on our smartphones or tablets, from news apps to social media apps, games apps, and financial apps. It seems everything is a native app these days. 

Native apps are developed for a specific mobile device and operating system. End users install them directly onto their device via an application marketplace like iOs’s App Store or Android’s Google Play. Mobile applications differ from web apps because they can leverage mobile device hardware, GPS, and cameras. 

Why Choose a Mobile App?

Nearly every brand of any significant size has its own dedicated mobile application. Think Netflix’s streaming app, McDonald’s rewards app, and Amazon’s online shopping app. Mobile apps can be highly advantageous for a startup looking to make its mark. 

The adoption of smartphones continues to grow domestically and internationally, with over 3B smartphone users today. Native apps offer an excellent way to connect to this enormous pool of customers. But startups face many challenges when developing applications for mobile devices.   

Screen sizes, hardware, operating systems, and configurations vary widely. And with the nature of the industry, mobile devices are changing at a rapid pace. 

App development for startups | Smartphone Users

Because native apps are platform-specific, they need to be built from scratch. This process is time-intensive and, therefore, native apps usually cost more to develop. But in return, these apps offer a better user experience and can support more advanced functionality.  

Mobile Application Pros

  1. User Interface and User Experience

Mobile applications offer a much better user experience. The UI and UX design is built from the ground up, so it can be tailored to perfectly represent your brand. Native apps are optimized to support the hardware on which they operate, so they load quickly and operate faster. 

  1. Can Use Hardware, Camera, GPS, and Other Components

Native apps can leverage the full software and hardware of the mobile device on which it runs. If your brand needs the support of GPS or a camera for your application to reach its full benefit, mobile apps are the way to go. They can directly interact with these components to deliver a sophisticated experience. 

  1. Form Connections

Forming lasting connections with your end users is an integral part of keeping them engaged with your app. Your organization doesn’t want to spend thousands developing a custom application for users to forget about it once it’s downloaded.

With native apps, you can use push notifications that will remind your users about the features waiting for them in your beautiful custom app. Consumers don’t have to go far, just swipe over to your application icon and load it up. 

  1. More Secure

Native applications are generally considered more secure than web applications. Web applications risk malicious web-based attacks, while mobile apps use the operating system’s built-in security features as protection. 

Mobile Application Disadvantages

  1. More Expensive

App development for startups is very much about staying on a tight budget. Startups don’t have the funds to spend recklessly on expensive ventures. Native apps cost more to develop because they are custom, meaning they are built from the ground up for a specific platform. This means working through the planning, design, development, and testing stages. It takes time, and it takes money. Typically, the cost of web development is less.

Choosing to create a mobile app is about your brand prioritizing quality and user experience in exchange for spending more. 

  1. Must Build for either iOs or Android

Native apps are platform-specific, part of why they are more expensive than web applications. If your team decides to create an iOs app for your business, that is an iOs-only app. Your brand would have to pay for two entire applications to be developed to support Android. That could mean twice the budget, twice the time, twice the hassle, and twice the upkeep. However, there are some powerful frameworks that can support builds on both platforms with a single codebase. Be sure to talk to your software development team on what the best plan is for your project. 

And remember, if your team develops a native app for only one platform, customers on the other platform might be left in the dust. 

  1. Costly Neverending Maintenance

Mobile devices are constantly changing. Google releases new security updates monthly and deploys a significant Android update about once a year. Apple engages in similar update schedules. 

Your team will need to spend money to maintain a native application, so it doesn’t fall into buggy disrepair. New updates may render features unusable and broken. Users won’t continue to use or enjoy your app if it’s not well maintained, but continuous maintenance can quickly get expensive. 

  1. App Store Approval 

Getting your newly developed and ready-to-ship native app on the Google Play marketplace is straightforward. Submit for approval, and you’ll hear back from Google in a few days. 

But what if your market research revealed that most of your target customers use iPhones and iPads? Then you’ll have to contend with the App Store approval process. Apple enforces a stricter set of rules and requirements that your brand’s application must fulfill, and it’s definitely harder to get approved. As a result, the App Store has 1.8 million fewer apps than Google Play. 

App development for startups | App Store

What is a Web App?

Web apps are just websites developed to be highly responsive and adaptive to suit multiple web browsers and mobile devices. A web app doesn’t involve downloading anything onto the mobile device (although many brands may suggest users download their native app with a friendly banner message). The app is run entirely within a mobile browser. Besides cached pages, web apps require a Wi-Fi or data connection. 

Why Choose a Web App?

Mobile browsing accounts for more than half of all internet traffic worldwide. Customers are on the web scrolling, searching, and browsing all the time. A web application allows your brand to make an immediate connection with users. They don’t have to download anything to get started, they can just create an account or start using your features within the browser. 

Web apps are usually highly optimized, so end users don’t even realize they are using a specially developed web application. They just think it’s like any other website. Pulling up Facebook on Safari? Or Netflix on Google Chrome? Visiting and getting some shopping done? Those are all examples of highly successful web apps. 

Web Application Advantages

  1. Function Within Browser

Not all users want to download a bunch of mobile apps onto their devices. They may be limited by storage constraints. Because Web apps function entirely within a browser, new visitors can explore your application without downloading it. 

  1. Quicker, Cheaper, and Easier to Develop and Maintain

Web applications use developer tools and frameworks, so developing one of these applications goes much quicker and costs much less than a native mobile app. Any cost savings are critical for an emerging startup with limited funding. 

Once the app is deployed, most maintenance is about addressing mobile responsiveness issues, not fixing mobile specific incompatibilities and bugs. 

As a startup, starting with a mobile optimized web app MVP (minimum viable product) can be a great way to launch a product and engage with a user base quickly at a reduced cost. There is always the option to build a mobile application at a future date with new iterative changes from critical user feedback as your company grows. 

  1. Available to All Users

Web apps are contained within a web browser, so they are available to all smartphone owners regardless of platform or device. By choosing to develop a web app, your brand can reach a much wider audience from day 1.

App development for startups is often about making the most impressions in the early days/months/years – an area where web apps excel. You can worry later about building a perfect software solution once people know about your brand. 

  1. Don’t Use Device Resources

Again because web apps are self-contained within a web browser, they don’t use the hardware resources of the smartphone. Users can enjoy web apps without affecting the performance of their devices. There’s no need to manage the storage of the application and worry about deleting apps to make space.

Web Application Cons

  1. Online Only

Web apps only function when a mobile device connects to the internet through Wi-Fi or mobile data networks. Modern browsers can store entire pages for offline use through the Application Cache feature, so when offline, some apps may still display certain pages. But most of the features will not function. 

Native mobile apps can retain a high level of functionality, even when offline because the application is installed onto the system. 

  1. Slower

Web apps are often slower than native apps. This is primarily due to browser differences. Web apps can’t be optimized with the same degree of control. A slower app means a worse user experience which can turn users away from your application. 

  1. Potential Security Risks

Webview is a very popular and essential development tool for creating web apps for Android devices. While Webview is safe with its default configuration, app developers often make changes without understanding the full implications on the security posture of the web app. Once Webview is rendered less secure, it’s only a matter of time before a hacker finds a vulnerability to exploit. 

  1. No Exposure in App Marketplace 

Web apps aren’t hosted in Google Play or the App Store. These massive application marketplaces pull in millions and millions of visitors each day. If your brand lacks a strong marketing campaign, it can be challenging for new users to find your site and use your app.

Making the Decision

Understanding your budget, development timeline, and goals is essential before getting started on app development of any kind. Both app types have strengths and weaknesses and are well-suited for different use cases. 

Your brand might feel pressured to go for the custom mobile app because they are more popular with mobile device users and all the other successful brands already have their own. But don’t make the wrong decision for your business by trying to appease some sense of success or accomplishment. Ensure you are selecting the best choice for your startup for the long term. 

app development for startups | Mobile Apps vs. Browser

Mobile apps are best suited for startups that:

  • Have a more ‘comfortable’ budget 
  • Could afford to develop a second mobile app in the near future (iOs and Android)
  • Want to offer a high-quality user experience and customized user interface
  • Need access to hardware, Calendar, Camera, GPS, etc
  • Want to use Push Notifications
  • Can support the maintenance requirements
  • Can handle the development challenges associated with custom apps

Web apps are a better fit for startups that:

  • Have a more ‘limited’ budget
  • Cannot afford to develop multiple apps in the near future
  • Want the app to be accessible to as many potential customers as possible
  • Don’t need hardware access
  • Cannot handle the development of custom apps (from an experience or expertise perspective)
  • Don’t want to force users to download an app
  • Want to launch an MVP quickly to engage with users and collect feedback

Seeking Assistance: App development for Startups

If you’re still unsure about this decision and want to consult professionals in app development for startups, Modern Launch is here to help. We are a software development agency with experience and an established process to help startups realize their goals. We are intimately familiar with these two application types and would love to assist your team with our development services, especially if expertise is a major barrier. 

We hope you found this article helpful. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to us. 

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