There was a time when web developers and website owners only made their sites friendlier for users on mobile devices as distant afterthoughts. Those days are now long past; the number of internet users on mobile devices surpassed those on desktop long ago (what we call a few years back in tech). We are now in the mobile era. Nowadays few website owners can afford the luxury or—more aptly—short-sightedness of developing websites which completely overlook mobile devices and their users.
Since, with very little doubt, mobile is now king the debate has moved onto that of mobile websites versus mobile apps. Many entrepreneurs and companies who offer some or all of their services via the internet often find themselves wondering which of the two is better for their businesses. The answer is usually not clear cut—it often depends on what kind of businesses you are running and what services you intend to offer via the prospective app/website. Today I am only going to tackle one half of the argument: I will point out some of the reasons why people usually prefer apps to websites.
Apps are faster
Websites also have a disadvantage over mobile apps of requiring an internet connection to access even the most basic of their features. While there are many apps which rely on an internet connection to function and yet still allow users to access some of their features when they don’t have an internet connection, it is generally impossible to open a website when you are completely offline. Consider how easy and natural it is to go through your past Whatsapp chats and files on your phone even when you are not connected to the internet and then compare it to the annoying error messages you get when you lose your internet connection and are using the web version of the app.
Use of device functions
Arguably the biggest advantage that apps have over their web counterparts is their almost unhindered access to the functions of the devices which host them. While some of these functions can indeed be accessed through mobile websites, think how much easier it is for current native apps to access functions like the camera, location, phone calls, SMSs, contacts and the compass in addition to various other device sensors. Even accessing files on users’ devices when on websites (e.g. for upload) is much more difficult than when you are using an app—many of which implement friendlier interfaces for accessing files than the default file select dialogue implementation which comes with most browsers.
For some applications such as those to do with social networking, messaging and other forms of communication, timely notifications are a must. Websites usually have a harder time implementing any reliable notification systems much to the misfortune of their users. This means that they usually have to rely on a secondary channel such as email and SMS to relay their regular notifications (as opposed to apps which usually only use these to facilitate user authentication). Native apps on the other hand can easily implement reliable and self-contained methods for notifying users.
Once off authentication
Another advantage that mobile apps have over their web-based counterparts is the ability to do away with the need for regular signing ins. Anyone from anywhere can access websites by their nature, so they usually rely on passwords whenever it becomes necessary to verify the identities of their users. Unfortunately, nowadays the average web surfer usually has to remember way too many passwords and many usually end up forgotten. That is not to mention the additional hassle of entering a username and password every time you have to use any particular website (or app). Fortunately, several apps (e.g. Whatsapp) can and only limit user verification to the signup stage.
Despite all the above points, mobile website based solutions still have some advantages over mobile apps in certain situations. In some cases websites and apps both hold enough advantages to make the development of both worthwhile even though the costs for this are usually prohibitive for many.