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The Native app vs web app debate

The Native app vs web app debate

«It’s kind of like trying to eat soup with a spork…Just get a spoon and you won’t accidentally stab yourself, and it will scoop better too….No restaurant would dare give you a spork to eat with, because restaurants know that sporks are a horrible way to eat” Kevin Conner, Senior iOS Developer at Two Toasters

First of all, what is the difference between a native app and a web app?

native or local app, means software that’s installed and running on a computer, offline, without any external support.  A common example are the programs your computer may already have installed, such as those in Microsoft Windows: Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc.  Other ones you may have downloaded include Skype, iTunes and Skitch.

Native apps are written for the specific plaform or operating system they are on: ie iOS, Android or Windows.    Ie they have a single platform affinity.  Because of this, some apps have been developped in different versions, for both mobile and desktop, such as Spotify.

web app is any software that operates in a web browser, ie online or is created in a browser-supported programming language.  For example, webmail such as Gmail, AOL mail and

Web applications have a cross-platform affinity: they work on multiple platforms.

OK!  So now we’ve got that sorted out, which is better?!

To an extent, the answer to which is better depends on which side of the fence you’re sitting, if you’re an application user or application developper!

As a developper, there are disadvantages to native apps, as you’ll have to make one for each operating system: this is more expensive and different devices may require different marketing and SEO.  For web apps, the positive side is that the arrival of HTML5 and AJAX have improved the level of interactivity of software environments.

As a user, there are advantages to web applications, including:

  • Web applications only require a compatible web browser to be used.  There’s no complex «roll out» procedure to deploy them in large organizations.
  • Similarly updates are automatically done on the server and delivered automatically to the useres.
  • In general, browser applications need little or no disk space 

However, there are also very strong advantages to native software for users:

First of all accessibility and speed.  From the above descriptions, it’s easy to understand that the first obvious advantage of a native app is that you take it with you, wherever you go.  You can access it in the park, on the train, even at the beach.  Whereas, conversely with web applications, the main disadvantage is the need to be connected to the internet while using it.  And have good connectivity to function optimally.  Added to this is the reliance on the servers that host them, if they go down you have no access to the app!

Secondly, because the app is made specifically for the platform where its being used, the user experience is optimal.  Graphics performance is faster.  «The web is an inherent compromise.» Because web apps are a kind of one-size-fits-all solution, there is less flexibilty when developping them and as such usability can suffer.  Native apps are a tailor-made solution.  There are more features available to a native app than a web app.  So developers can create a user interface that is more engaging, responsive, and intuitive.

Once you’ve downloaded it, the native app is there on your system and you can return to it again and again.  It’s ever present on your desktop.

Apart from performance and experience, security is much stronger on a native app, a continuing concern among consumers. Native apps have more means of encryption available, than do web apps.  The latter may rely on potentially unsecure caches in web browsers, or be subject to exploits based on open code.  Heartbleed anyone?

Flurry, published results this year which showed that mobile users far prefer apps over mobile-optimized sites:

2014 04 17 flurry

So, why did I bring the native vs web app debate up?!  

Mailify is a native email marketing app.  This is unusual for an email service provider, perhaps even unique in the industry which is strongly web-based.    We decided to do this to put the user at the heart of the experience.


Key takeaway: native apps are a reliable, optimized and secure solution…and even exist for email marketing!


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