Business Development

Web app vs. mobile app: How to decide which is best for your business

March 26, 2024
Web app vs. mobile app: How to decide which is best for your business

When considering whether to develop a web app or a mobile app for your business, there’s honestly no definitive answer. There’s no rule that one is always better than the other.

However, we’re here to help you think through this decision and walk away with more clarity.

The choice between pursuing a web app or a mobile app (or both) is a strategic decision that requires careful consideration of various factors—including your target users, budget, functionality, and long-term goals.

By carefully assessing these factors, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your business goals and sets you up for success.

A quick summary of whether to build a web app or a mobile app

As you’re thinking about which type of custom software to build, ask yourself these questions:

  • What type of device will your target audience primarily use, particularly for interacting with the app you have in mind?

  • What is your budget for development and maintenance?

  • How quickly do you need to launch your digital product?

  • What type of features and functionality should your app have?

  • Will your app need to be able to work offline?

  • How will you drive traffic to your application?

At risk of oversimplifying this decision, here are a few instances where you might choose one over the other.

Consider a web app if:

  • You want to reach a broader audience, needing accessibility across multiple devices

  • Your budget is limited (as web apps are generally more cost-effective)

  • Quick deployment and scalability are essential

  • You have a web presence already that can funnel traffic to your new web app

Consider a mobile app if:

  • Your target audience is on-the-go or using the product multiple times per day

  • Offline access is necessary for core functionalities

  • You need to leverage device-specific features, like the camera, GPS, or push notifications

  • You can take advantage of app store marketing features to build an audience

What are some of the differences between web apps and mobile apps?

Once you’ve considered questions about your target audience, timeline, desired functionalities, and more, you can begin matching your responses to the advantages provided by each type of app.

These are some widely agreed upon features of web apps compared to mobile apps:

  • Cost: Generally, web apps are more cost-effective to develop and maintain. This is because they can be built once and accessed across multiple platforms, whereas mobile apps often require separate development for iOS and Android platforms.Using a cross platform framework like React Native can sometimes help narrow this gap, especially if you need your app to be available on both iOS and Android from day one.

  • Accessibility: Web apps can be used via web browsers on various devices, making them more versatile in reaching a broader audience with a universal solution. Mobile apps, on the other hand, typically integrate tighter with the phone’s capabilities, resulting in a narrower audience.

  • Performance: Mobile apps typically offer better performance and responsiveness compared to web apps, especially when accessing device-specific features like GPS, camera, or push notifications. This is because mobile apps can leverage the hardware and software capabilities of the device more efficiently.

  • Offline access: Mobile apps may have the advantage of providing better offline access because they can store data locally on the device—allowing users to access certain features and content even without an internet connection.

  • User experience: Mobile apps often provide a more optimized and intuitive user experience compared to web apps, especially for tasks that require frequent interactions or complex functionalities. This is because mobile apps can leverage platform-specific design elements and gestures to enhance usability.

  • Updates and maintenance: Mobile apps require regular updates and maintenance to ensure compatibility with the latest operating system versions and device configurations. Web apps, on the other hand, can be updated centrally on the server-side, making maintenance more straightforward and cost-effective.

Examples of choosing between web apps and mobile apps, based on business goals

So, what does this look like in practice? Here are two hypothetical scenarios of business leaders analyzing their target users, budget, functionality, and long-term goals to make an informed decision between building a web app or a mobile app.

Let’s say that Jolene is the CMO at a large e-commerce company hoping to enhance customer engagement through a loyalty program.

She conducts market and user research and consults with her team, then decides to pursue a web app for several reasons:

  • Accessibility: A web app ensures accessibility across all devices, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, maximizing reach and convenience for her diverse customer base.

  • Cost-effectiveness: Developing a single web app is more cost-effective than building separate native mobile apps for iOS and Android platforms, streamlining development efforts and resource allocation.

  • Scalability: A web app offers greater flexibility and scalability for future enhancements and updates, allowing Jolene to iterate and adapt the loyalty program based on customer feedback and market trends.

  • User experience: While mobile apps offer optimized experiences for mobile users, Jane prioritizes consistency and accessibility across all devices, maintaining brand identity and eliminating the need for customers to download additional apps.

  • Integration: A web app can be seamlessly integrated with Jolene’s existing backend systems for managing inventory, orders, and customer data, ensuring data consistency and leveraging existing infrastructure efficiently.

Or consider Shawn, a VP of human resources at a national healthcare organization, facing the challenge of streamlining employee communication and participation across diverse teams and geographical locations.

He decides to invest in a mobile app solution for several reasons:

  • Accessibility and connectivity: With a significant portion of the workforce operating remotely or on-the-go, a mobile app ensures seamless communication and engagement across diverse teams, regardless of location or device.

  • Real-time communication: A mobile app enables instant messaging and notifications, facilitating quick and efficient communication among employees, managers, and leadership, essential for fostering engagement and productivity.

  • Employee self-service: Mobile apps offer convenient access to HR resources and services on-the-go, empowering employees to manage various tasks, such as time-off requests and training enrollment, directly from their smartphones, enhancing efficiency and reducing administrative overhead.

  • Feedback and recognition: Mobile apps facilitate feedback, recognition, and participation in surveys and polls, fostering a culture of appreciation and engagement within the organization.

  • Analytics and insights: Mobile apps provide valuable analytics and insights into employee engagement and usage patterns, enabling data-driven decision-making to optimize employee experience and satisfaction effectively.

MichiganLabs can help you decide between a web app or mobile app

If you’re looking for a partner to walk alongside you through this important decision-making process, we’d love to help.

Through a four-week product strategy engagement, we’ll collaboratively outline an actionable roadmap toward the design and development of your custom software solution.

Want to talk this through with someone? Let’s schedule a discovery conversation!

Nicole Zwiers
Nicole Zwiers
Marketing Lead

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