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:
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!