Apps 101: Native apps vs. Mobile Web apps

I spend a lot of time talking to people and organizations – museums, hotels, universities – about mobile apps. One of the first things I like to point out is that there are different kinds of mobile apps. There are native apps like iPhone and Android apps, and there are Mobile Web apps. It’s important to understand both in order to decide what’s best for you.

What’s the Difference Between Native Apps and Web Apps?

Native apps are built to work on to work on one platform (like the iPhone), not multiple platforms. To download a native app, you need to:

1. Go to the appropriate app store

2. Search for and locate the app

3. Download the app to your device.

By contrast, Mobile Web apps are built to work across different platforms, allowing you to have one app that works on all smartphones and tablet devices. Rather than needing to go to an app store, you simply access the app through the Internet browser on your phone. No downloads needed. To access a web app, you need to:

1. Type in the app’s URL in your browser (or scan a QR code). That’s it. No downloads. No waiting.

To expand a little more on this concept: native iPhone apps only work on iPhones (and iPod Touches). Native Android apps only work on Android phones and tablets.  If you want to reach multiple platforms, you need to build multiple native apps. Additionally, native apps in most cases require a submission process which can take several days or weeks to get approval. It’s not fun giving a third-party veto power over your content.

Alternatively, you can think of a Mobile Web app as a super-slick website optimized for mobile devices. So any smartphone, tablet or even desktop computer can use web apps. Plus with advancements in HTML5 and some other programming languages, a nicely designed Mobile Web app can now be almost indistinguishable from a native app.  Mobile Web Apps now include location-aware maps, touchscreen keypads, and all sorts of snazzy buttons and footers which look just like a native app.

Here are some screen shots of Web apps which have been built on TourSphere:

Web Apps can look and function much like native apps.

Here’s a quick comparison of Native Apps vs. Mobile Web apps:


To summarize? Obviously, the right choice for your organization depends on your specific goals and connectivity situation. The goal of this post is to let you know that there are different kind of apps, so you can make the best choice for your organization.

At TourSphere, we offer both options (native and mobile web apps). We even have clients that do both: the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has a Mobile Web app for visitors that own smartphones, and they also have 300 iPod Touches loaded with a Native iOS app that they loan out to non-smartphone owners.

Having said that, here at TourSphere we are big believers in Web Apps.  In our experience they often provide the most bang for your buck when budgets are tight – allowing you to build one app and reach the maximum number of visitors.  Plus updates are quick and easy, there is no approval process with an app store, and web apps can launch instantly with no download time.

Do you have strong feelings about native apps or mobile web apps? Do you have one, or both, or neither? Jump in and join the conversation!

2 thoughts on “Apps 101: Native apps vs. Mobile Web apps

  1. I concur with Rob, everything is moving towards non-native cloud based mobile apps. One additional factor to consider though (from a museum standpoint), is if your institution has strong wifi or cell coverage. At the The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, I’m currently working on a TourSphere application for an upcoming exhibition that will last approximately 9 months. Our campus has wifi in certain buildings. The exhibition however, is in a building that has extremely hot wifi connectivity, so it makes perfect sense to go non-native.

    A few months back, I visited The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR. Of course, I toted my iPad with me on my visit. They have a wonderful native app on iTunes but the content is so rich and dynamic that it takes a long time to download. While the galleries at Crystal Bridges are fully wifi enabled, the wireless signal is very poor. Consequently, I observed some visitors frustrated as they did not download the app prior to arrival at the museum.

    Yesterday, I noticed another promising use of web based app technology. Check out the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO. They recently released a web based app that can be accessed at I like non-native apps because I can skip the iTunes and Google Play store and automatically update my content and it goes live instantly. I’m researching and writing on Mobile Technologies for my MA in Art Education thesis, I’m convinced thus far, that TourSphere is the best platform for mobile app development.

    Jason Hose, BS, MA Art Education
    Stephen F. Austin State University
    Nacogdoches, TX

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