Mobile app vs mobile web – what’s the difference?

What’s the difference?

A mobile app is an application that is downloaded to a mobile device, and makes use of the device’s hardware and often it enables information to be stored offline.
To access an app, the user must visit an app store (which one will depend on the type of phone you have) and download it.  Some apps are free, some require you to pay for the app or be a subscriber to access full content.

A mobile website is basically a normal website but designed specifically to make it easier to read and navigate on a small screen.  The mobile web is accessed via your mobile’s browser and therefore requires internet access.  It is becoming increasingly common for organisations to have a mobile version of their webpages and so often the website will detect if you are using a mobile device and display the mobile web version automatically.

The screenshots below demonstrate the difference using the BBC News as an example:

BBC News – mobile app (left) and mobile web (right)

Which is best?

The suitability of a native app or mobile web depends on the desired purpose and how users will be expected to interact with the service.

Some things to consider when deciding whether to develop an app or a mobile site would be

  • Do you wish to store info?
  • Would you want to be able to access  offline?
  • Compatibility with different mobile phones
  • Budget for development
  • Technical knowledge (different programming languages for different types of app)
  • Timescale (app store approval process can be lengthy)

This page was adapted from   m-libraries post on mobile apps vs the mobile web

This post also listed some further useful resources:

Yahoo! Mobile Modes Whitepaper

The fight gets technical: mobile apps vs. mobile sites

Mobile Web App vs. Native App? It’s Complicated

Mobile web vs apps: what’s right for your user? (from CILIP Multimedia Information & Technology newsletter)

HTML5, Hybrid or Native Mobile App Development Webinar


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