Tech Explained.

Do I need an app or a website?

April 13th 2018
3 min read

You've got an app idea.

Maybe it's for an app where you can hail taxis and pay for your ride, or an app where you can book a short stay in people's homes - something no-one's ever done before.

But do you really need to build a native app, or can you get away with just making a website?

To be super clear - a native app is something that shows up in the iOS App Store or Google Play, and only runs on iOS or Android devices, while a website is something that you can use from anything with a browser, so desktops, laptops as well as phones.

This is really the major difference between apps and websites - apps only work on phones and tablets1 while websites work on basically everything.

As well as this, apps are generally harder to program than websites, because you either need to write native code, or usually work with some native framework, which are trickier to work with than the web.

So why would you ever build a native app? Apps are better than websites for a few things, such as:

  • Push notifications - apps can send push messages to users even when they're not in the app, which is something websites can't do at all.
  • Remembering what you've done in the app - websites load pretty much from scratch every time you visit them, but apps can launch to exactly where you last left them. Apps are also far better at storing data on the device they're installed on.
  • High performance - apps can talk directly to the device they're running on while websites have to go through the browser, so they are quicker and more capable. This makes apps a good choice for games, or map-based applications.
  • Talking to peripherals - again, as apps talk directly to the device, it's easier for them to access things like the camera or the GPS.

On the other hand, websites are better than native apps as:

  • They don't have to be downloaded from an app store - you just have to click a link.
  • They are always up to date - going to a URL always gives you the latest version of a website.
  • They run on everything with a browser - mentioned above but worth repeating.
  • They are easier to develop - Browsers have amazing developer tools that native platforms can't really match.

Pretty unsurprisingly given the above, our view at Threadsafe is that building a website should be your default choice, and you should only create a native app if you really need something that websites can't provide.

1 Chromebooks can run Android apps, but that's a special case.

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