The future of web apps vs. native apps

With all of this talk of new Apple products, App Store drama and cross-platform app development, I selfishly am looking far into the future and wondering, “when can we cut all this crap and just build everything on the web?”

The Problems With Native

  1. When you build a native app, you have to write it 2-3 times over for each platform, or suffer from janky UX/UI by using a tool like PhoneGap.
  2. Users suffer from App Clutter on their devices
  3. If it’s one-time-use information, the barrier to entry is higher and the user is less likely to see your content.

You CAN make a web app on iOS

One would argue that you can already make web apps. The Financial Times did this, giving Apple the big “Ef You” when they wanted 30% of the subscriptions. Financial Times made a web app, promoted it heavily, and showed how easy it was to make an iOS Web App that acts pretty much like a native app, with some help from the end user.

There are some great tools out there to make web app building a little easier:

So why don’t we see a large amount of web apps out there?

I have a few theories why web apps aren’t wide-spread.

All the cool kids are doing it

Companies out there don’t understand when a native app is a good idea, and when it’s not. If end users aren’t going to your “app” on a somewhat consistant basis, you really should be using a web app.

A great example of this was a restaurant I was in a while back. They have an app, but there was not a single thing in it that couldn’t be accomplished by a web site. If the mindset is that they want it easily readable, then make a site that is mobile-ready. There are many apps out there that could simply be a responsive website (or even an “m dot” user-agent-detected approach). But people want to be in the app store, because that’s where the cool kids are.

Apps need certain API’s to the hardware

Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, a native app might be the right decision for you. There have been some pretty big strides over the past few years with html5 and accessing hardware APIs like geolocation and gyroscope/accelerometer. But there are many hardware API’s that developers still need like camera, OpenGL, etc.

The moral of the story

Only make native apps when it’s appropriate. Web apps and/or responsive web design are cheaper, and easier to maintain across multiple platforms.

I do think the access to device hardware within the browser will grow but at the rate devices are evolving, it will never be 100%. There will always be a place for native apps, but I think that gap will be closing little by little.

By Ryan Tvenge

I'm a web developer and co-owner of Hoverboard that makes cool stuff on the web.

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