Should you build a web application or a mobile application first

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Last updated on January 11th, 2024

It seems like every enterprise is busy building apps. But should you build a web application or a mobile application first? Given that

65.9% of the global population used a mobile phone in 2018, it is natural to assume that the coming era will be dominated by mobile phones. But the age of the web is still upon us. As of December 2018, there were approximately 1.94 billion websites in the world.

While mobile apps are usually created after a web application has been built, that is not always the case. So, how do you decide?

The answer depends on your requirements and the audience you want to connect with.

When web applications are a good choice?

A web application is generally more accessible, more affordable, and less complicated to develop than a mobile app. Here are some situations where building a web application first is a better business decision:

  • If you’re looking for fast prototyping, and want anyone connected to the Internet to be able to view content, you can quickly bring up a web application using a plethora of ready web development tools.
  • If compatibility is a priority, you can build a responsive web application using languages like HTML, CSS, and PHP.
  • If you want to reach a larger audience, pick a web application as you can cater to more users.  
  • If accessibility from any web browser or search engine is what you’re looking for, building a web app is a good option.
  • If your team does not possess expert knowledge about OSes and mobile phone features, building a web application is a far simpler option than building a complex mobile app.
  • If you do not have the budget or resources for continuous maintenance, a web application may work better as it is easier to maintain.

When mobile applications are a good choice?

A mobile application is generally more suited for programs that use more memory, and are focused on heavy user-interaction. Here are some situations when building a mobile application first may be a better business decision:

  • If you want to offer an extremely rich user experience, with quick navigation and an attractive UI, building a mobile application is advisable.
  • If you are building an application that needs to use native functionality of mobile phones such as GPS, accelerometer, camera etc., or one that requires a lot of memory, you should build a mobile app first.
  • If you’re building an app, that requires tons of user input or that pulls data from the user’s device in order to function, mobile apps should be your first choice.
  • If you are in a business where you need to frequently send push notifications, you can do that more easily with mobile applications.
  • If you cater to an audience that might use offline capabilities extensively, mobile apps are the way to go.

Evaluate the capabilities in detail

Mobile apps often require a significant amount of time, effort, and investment. So, many businesses refrain from building a mobile app first and choose to build a web app instead. However, if you want to offer an exceptional user interface, and want users to advantage of native features like GPS, camera, or contacts, a mobile app will make more sense. Having said that, here are some capabilities you should evaluate in detail:

  1. Budget: Budget is one of the main reasons people choose to develop a web application first. Although web applications cannot match the level of convenience of mobile apps, they require less budget and are easier to develop than mobile applications. If you can’t fit the high costs of an app into your budget, building a web application is a cost-effective way to implement your idea.  
  2. Speed: In today’s fast-paced world, no one has time to explore content over a slow platform. Since mobile apps store data locally on users’ phone, as compared to web apps that store data on servers, mobile apps score higher on the speed factor as compared to web apps. Despite this, mobile apps relatively take a higher amount of time for installation. If your users are only looking for general information, and are not frequent visitors, you should build a web application.
  3. Accessibility: The success of any business depends on understanding the needs of their audience. If your target market needs to access services on a daily or hourly basis and even offline, a mobile application will enable you to drive better conversions. However, if you want to reach more users, and your users only need to access general information, you can make it available through a web application, and save time and effort.
  4. Interactivity: It is a well-known fact that a mobile application is more interactive and can seamlessly interact with native mobile features. Users can access their phone contacts, location services, camera, and other features through a mobile application – which they can’t with a website.
  5. Maintenance: Making the choice between a mobile or web application also depends on how often you need to update your data. If you need to constantly change the content or the data, developing a web application would be much better than investing in a mobile application.

Make the right decision

The advent of mobile phones is compelling businesses big and small to move to a mobile-first strategy. Businesses believe that they can benefit greatly by making themselves available through mobile apps. However, developing a mobile app first is not always a simple decision. As always, you need to weigh the pros and cons of both approaches. Start by evaluating your budget, and then move on to understanding your target market, look at aspects such as speed, accessibility, interactivity, and maintenance, and then choose the option that best fits your needs.

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