Native Apps vs. Web Apps: What's the Difference?

A look into the difference between installed apps and web-based apps.

By David Samberg on June 5, 2013

Every consumer with a smartphone or tablet uses mobile apps when they open a calendar, play a game or listen to music. However, not all apps look or work the same. The type of app you use and whether it is a native app or a Web-based app could impact your experience.

A Web-based app has specific functionality for mobile devices and can be accessed through the device’s Web browser. For example, AllRecipes.com, the popular site for cooking tips and recipes, offers users a dedicated Web app for browsing recipes on a mobile device. One advantage of a Web-based app is that it will run on mobile browsers, ultimately not requiring users to install new software or manually search for updates.

In comparison, DinnerSpinner from AllRecipes.com is a native app that is installed directly onto a mobile device. Native apps can usually be found through an app store, such as Google Play, and require the store’s approval.

A recent survey by BiTE Interactive found that most mobile device owners prefer native apps that capitalize on a smartphone's capabilities. DinnerSpinner, for example, can access a device’s camera and scan any ingredient to find a recipe with that ingredient. Because these apps are designed with the device’s built-in features in mind, they are easier to work with, offer consumers a more robust user experience and perform faster.

A middle ground can be found in hybrid apps, which are designed using the same technology as Web-based apps but run within a native app framework rather than a browser. In fact, because hybrid apps like Yelp, Foursquare and Twitter are able to offer features of both native and Web apps, Gartner predicts that by 2016 more than 50 percent of mobile apps will be hybrid, highlighting their growing popularity within the mobile ecosystem and what the future of app development may look like very soon.

Check out the Top 20 Must-Have Apps that help users get the most out of their smartphones and tablets.