Modern day businesses often have internal debates about the importance of building different digital assets, specifically when it comes to mobile apps versus websites versus web apps.
A lot of people feel you don't need a smartphone app, and that you just need a website that looks fine on mobile devices. Others claim mobile apps have advantages that cannot be offered by a website. Who's right? In this article, we will explore the differences between these three types of software to identify where mobile apps set themselves apart from web-only products.
You might assume that web apps and mobile apps are the same in nature, but in reality, they are not. They aren't just different in terms of their structure; they are also built for different classes of user. To start, let's review the structural differences between progressive web applications and websites.
Progressive Web Apps Defined
A progressive web app (PWA) is essentially a version of a website that operates correctly, fluidly, and in a user-friendly way on mobile devices. Specifically, web apps work like downloadable apps, but all from the convenience of the browser of your mobile device computer. In this way, they fall between websites and mobile apps, as they act like websites, but provide an experience that is comparable to native apps.
Native Apps Defined
Native apps are apps created for a specific platform, such as iOS for the Apple iPhone or Android for any Android-based smartphone. They are usually downloaded and installed via an app store and have access to device resources such as GPS and the camera functionality. Native applications live on the device itself and run on it.
Some examples of popular mobile apps are Snapchat, Instagram, Google Maps, and Facebook Messenger. Unlike web apps, which are accessed through the internet browser and adapt to any computer you are on, native apps are constrained to the device that they are running on. Some web apps are dynamic and interactive enough to adjust according to the size of different displays, but most are static.
Why Build a Mobile App?
So how is it that native mobile platforms can offer different functionality than web interfaces? Well, by definition, there are multiple useful features that are exclusively available on mobile apps. These features include the following, which we'll discuss in detail below:
- Use of device-specific features
- Ease of personalization
- Offline usage
- Easier user access
- Better speed
- Push notifications
- Brand visibility
- Design freedom
Use of device-specific features
When using smartphone applications, users can access device-specific functions such as screenshot, camera, dictionary, GPS, autocorrect, and touch screen (which is not present on most desktops or laptops).
Screenshots in particular are a highly common use case, as they are very simple to take and save for future use when reading an article, watching a fashion show, or capturing some other on-screen event. The simple zoom in and zoom out functions offered by touch screens enable easy cropping and focus.
These features can reduce the time to perform common tasks and boost convenience.
Ease of personalization
Mobile apps give you the liberty to personalize the user experience on the basis of their preferences, location, usage patterns, and more. With smartphone applications, it's easy to present consumers with a highly personalized interface. In addition, a mobile app can also allow users to customize the app's appearance as per their preferences.
Offline usage is not especially easy to implement, but it may be the most significant advantage offered by mobile applications. Although mobile applications usually require internet access to perform much of their duties, they may still offer basic content and features to users in offline mode.
For example, consider health and wellness applications. These apps can provide functionality such as a diet plan, calorie chart, body measurement, water intake alert, and many more, even without the assistance of an internet connection.
Easier user access
Mobile users spend 86%  of their time on mobile apps and just 14% on mobile websites. In comparison, the total time consumers spend on mobile applications is also growing, rising in one year by 21 percent. There is no doubt that people invest much of their time on social media applications and gaming applications, which are often native mobile apps.
A well-designed mobile app will certainly perform at a much faster speed than a mobile website.
In comparison to websites, which typically use web servers, applications generally store their data locally on mobile devices. For this reason, in mobile applications, data extraction is easy to perform. In addition, by storing user preferences and using them to take proactive actions on behalf of users, apps can save users time.
There are two forms of smartphone app alerts: push notifications and in-app alerts. They are both attention-grabbing options that connect in a relatively non-invasive way for smartphone users. In-app alerts are alerts that can only be accessed by users when they open an app.
On the other hand, push notifications are displayed to users regardless of the operation they are currently performing on their mobile device. This is a powerful way to grab the user's attention; in fact, there have been some cases where push notifications delivered click-through rates of 40 percent or higher.
It goes without saying that the notification campaigns have to be thoughtfully prepared. Users will resent being constantly pinged by notifications that don't deliver urgent or relevant information.
Technically, push notifications for progressive web apps can also be implemented by utilizing third-party services, but these services are currently in a preliminary stage and have some limitations.
Consumers devote a large portion of their time to mobile app interaction. It's fair to assume that many people, every day, seek out a company's app icon on their smartphones. For app makers, this daily experience can be used as a promotional opportunity. 
Even if people do not use a smartphone app actively, they will be reminded of it whenever they see their home screen. The app icon works as a brand mini-ad for the brand.
Even with all the technical advances in web design, to perform even the most basic functions, mobile websites have to rely a lot on browsers. Mobile websites rely on browser features to function, such as the "back" button, "refresh" button, and address bar.
None of these limitations apply to mobile applications.
Based on advanced gestures like "tap", "swipe", "drag", "pinch", "hold", and more, a mobile app can be programmed with a lot of elaborate functions. These gestures can be used by apps to provide creative features that can help users complete their tasks more intuitively. For instance, using a swipe gesture, an app will allow users to move to the next or previous phase.
Mobile Apps Offer Unique Advantages
Websites may capture a broader range of traffic, but for businesses that can make use of the above features, a smartphone app is essential. Native apps and websites can work together in a satisfying way to build an omnichannel user experience that draws user traffic and results in tremendous user growth.
This is true across a wide array of business types. If you're an e-commerce store, why not encourage visitors to buy from your website as well as through an app? Churches can use mobile apps to release revised sermon notes prior to the service and then record audio and video. Restaurants can provide modified menus, instructions, and online orders. Magazines may submit push alerts when new papers are written. Consider both web and mobile properties into your customer engagement plan, instead of one or the other.
Crowdbotics specializes in converting websites and web apps into mobile apps. We offer custom, cross-platform app builds that let companies get their content to customers on all of their devices. If you're looking to expand your marketing strategy to include omnichannel engagement, get in touch with a Crowdbotics expert today.