There’s a major problem in the world of app creation. You know what? I’d dare to go as far as to call it a minor crisis!

It’s a problem that stems from a simple but all too common miscommunication. It’s a case of semantics causing a complicated mess.

What is this catastrophe I’m referring to?

Folks are using the term ‘App’ when they really mean ‘Web App’ 


Theres are a number of differences between a ‘Native’ App and a Web App. And the cavalier use of the the word ‘app’ to mean one or both of these tools creates endless confusion. So let’s break it down.

First of all, if I’m honest, the most noteworthy of the difference between a Native App and a Web App is the amount of time and money it takes to see an ROI on a native app. This is because, in many cases, tons of money is wasted building an app when the focus would be better served on a well designed web app.


So what exactly is a ‘Web App’, anyways? 

A Web App is basically just a device agnostic website; it’s a site that is built to fit all browsers, including mobile devices. It might even look and feel like a proper app. The functionalities can be near endless. But a web app is always run through an internet browser.

Don’t call a Web App an ‘App’, call it a Web App (or ‘Mobile’ Web App, if you prefer).

Native apps, on the other hand, are proper ‘Apps’

Apps are built exclusively for IOS, Android, etc. They are not run through an internet browser. They are extraordinary useful tools and can even be vital for some business models to survive and thrive.

Apps can be invaluable tools. We’ll get to that. But they have some major downsides. Here’s two big ones: they’re costly and reach a limited audience.

The truth is that not every organization needs an app. In fact, many organizations won’t even gain anything from a dedicated native app. On the other hand, every modern company or organization needs a web app. This is doubly true if any of your service offerings are web-based.

If you want the content housed in your website to reach as many people as possible, a mobile responsive website is your ticket

And doesn’t this definition fit the needs sought out by most organizations?

Even if you might find the need for a native app down the line, it almost never makes sense if your organization doesn’t first build a rock solid web app.

At the end of the day, you only need to ask yourself one question: ‘is your organization trying to accomplish anything that can’t be achieved in a web browser?’

If the answer is ‘no’. It’s probably wise to resist paying for an app.

If the answer is ‘yes’ then maybe it’s time to jump in.

And if you are unsure whether the answer might be yes, then here’s a list of the very real reasons to have a native app:

  • They’re faster
  • They’re available offline
  • Any manner of unique functionalities tied to a device (i.e. touch screen game(s), utilization of a smart phone’s camera or GPS)
  • Accessibility or ‘high-use’ service (is yours a service that over 10% of clients could realistically use on a daily or even weekly basis?)
Apple App Store Icons

Would any of these functionalities add considerable value to your brand? It’s a vital question to consider. And it’s made more complicated by the fact that your answer is likely to fall in a gray area somewhere.

Mobile vs App
Infographic from Functionality

Key takeaway: Designing a great app is expensive

Finding a worthwhile ROI is extraordinarily tricky when it comes to launching an app. It’s why more and more organizations have learned to settle for extremely well designed Web App interfaces.

Written by

John Dudley