Design Insights

Native apps vs Web apps: A designer’s perspective

Sep 2017

5
min read

If you can’t decide between a native app and a web app, allow these pros and cons from a designer’s perspective to help you make the decision.

By Simon McCade
Sep 2017

5
min read

Time and money are generally your main considerations when it comes to building and designing an app. How much will it cost and how long will it take?

But those aren’t your only considerations if you want to give your target audience the kind of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) they expect in this day and age.

Weighing up your options between a native app and a web app can be laborious in itself, so I’ve compiled the pros and cons of each route to help you make a call. Let’s take a look:

Advantages of native apps

They are faster and more stable than web apps

Google and Apple regulate all apps that make it into their stores. If it’s not up to their high standards of design, functionality and UX, it won’t make the cut. This means that only the most reliable apps tend to make it.

They provide focus for designers and developers

The very nature of a purpose-built app is such that it is created with a specific purpose in mind. This means that designers know exactly the sort of experience that will make the grade, thanks to testing, branding and a familiarity with the general standard of UX in the market today. People use native apps all the time, so they expect them to be easy to use.

They offer additional functionality opportunities

Designers can have a bit more freedom when it comes to mapping out the user journey in accordance with the available functionality on a device. Cameras, microphones and compasses, amongst many other features, can be built into the experience, which makes the whole process a lot more creative.

They can be used offline

Depending on their purpose, some apps can be used without an internet connection, which means extra creative freedom when it comes to the UX. Users can lose connectivity, but will expect everything to sync and work when it is restored, so a designer must get to grips with how to manage expectations in this sense.

They can pull users back in for more

Given how busy the app market is these days, you may want to remind people that they have yours installed on their devices. Push notifications are a great way to facilitate this.

Disadvantages of native apps

They can be time-consuming and costly

The nature of native apps means that they must be designed in different ways for different platforms, which does add to the workload and, therefore, the cost, but this must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

They still have the same user expectations across devices and operating systems

Regardless of the fact that the design and build must be approached in different ways for different devices, the user expectations still remain the same. People still demand a high standard, whether they’re using an Android or an iPhone, so the UX and UI must accommodate for this in every facet of the app.

They can require different design assets for different platforms

Sometimes, it’s necessary to create a slightly different set of assets for each platform, which can make managing and maintaining them a time-consuming task. Where applicable, I endeavour to make my designs flexible enough to be utilised across different platforms.

They can prove a pain when it comes to hiring experienced designers

The reality is that there aren’t many designers out there who have experience of working regularly with both platforms, so finding the right person for the job can be tough (this may or may not be a shameless plug…!).

Advantages of web apps

They can be more cost-effective

Web apps are typically considered to be more affordable than their native equivalents thanks to the fact that you don’t need to design and build for multiple platforms. However, this isn’t always the case; it depends on the complexity of the functionality of the app itself.

They are more accessible to everybody

Thanks to the lack of platform restrictions, web apps can be used anywhere at any time from any device. They are accessible through any browser, too, so there’s no need for the design to be held back; there is only one UX.

They are always up-to-date

Anyone who uses a web-based app is always running the latest version. This means that it’s much easier for designers to integrate new ideas and functionality and solve problems related to the UX — and much quicker, too.

They don’t need to be downloaded from an app store

There’s no need for people to search around an app store and download anything, including updates. The web app is in one place and is updated in one place, so it’s easier for everyone.

Disadvantages of web apps

They have lower user expectations

People don’t expect the same kind of UX they get from a native app in a web app, so it can often take them a bit of time to get used to the differences in functionality and the general nuances of a web-based experience.

They can be time-consuming to test

Testing is necessary no matter the platform, design or build, but testing in multiple browsers to ensure full compatibility for every user is a painstaking process. Without it, though, there’d be no point in the app in the first place.

They are typically slower than native apps

It is generally so that web apps are slower than native apps because not all browsers will perform at the same rate as a new smartphone. This can affect the UX, but design can be approached in a different way so as to reduce the load times, for instance, so there are workarounds.

They have limited gesture support

Pinching, swiping and force touch are available for progressive web apps, however their support is somewhat limited. Indeed, not all apps need mobile gestures, but those that do will be better utilising the native format.

If you have any tips to share regarding designing in native and web apps, feel free to get in touch and connect with me on LinkedIn.

Native apps vs Web apps: A UX / UI designer’s perspective

The good stuff

The not-so-good stuff

This article represents the opinion of experience design consultant, Simon McCade, who has no association or affiliation with the company or the app in question.

Are you experiencing similar issues with your app?

I can help you enhance user engagement, reduce friction with customers and develop your digital products in a user-centric way. Get in touch today.

By Simon McCade
Design for Ambitious Startups

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