We live in a world where trends don’t just offer great opportunities for new business ideas – they can also dictate the direction of existing businesses. These opportunities naturally make people say, “Let’s build an app!” or “I have a great app idea.” But after years of working with startups, I came to the conclusion that “apps” are a generic, seldom understood and often incorrectly applied technology. Let’s walk through a basic differentiation between building a native app and a web app, and then I’ll explain why starting with a web app could be the best way to solidify your idea. Take a look at the following two mobile Facebook screenshots.
Probably not. What you might not know is that one is a native application, while the other is a web application. So, what’s a native application? That is what most people refer to when they say “app.” It can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. For many native apps (such as game apps), you don’t have to be online. On the other hand, what’s a web app? It is an HTML5 website that has been optimized to be seen and used like a native app, but in most cases, it requires you to be connected to the Internet. I guess you could call it a native app emulation, as it imitates its look and feel.
Think you can create a Facebook-like idea from your bedroom with just a few bucks? If you haven’t noticed by now, nowadays, there’s hardly such a thing as a quick, organic, successful idea that doesn’t require a significant investment. That said, since you know that you will need to invest money into promoting and improving the application once you launch, why not start with a less expensive, safer route? On average, web application development costs 60% less than native development.
Do you believe your idea is so unique that it needs to launch as quickly as possible? Unless you have the money to hire your own full-time native development team, you will be looking at months (sometimes years) of development. With a web app, development takes half the time. Why? First native development is more complex and takes more man-hours. Also, you’re tied to the approvals and restrictions of the company that owns the mobile devices’ operating systems (we’ll learn more about this in point 5).
If you are a good, methodical entrepreneur, you probably did all your homework to identify your target audience and learn what they want and how they want it…but what if you’re wrong? A $10K mistake is not the same as a $100K mistake, and proof-of-concept web apps can be the perfect first step to make sure you’re catering to the right crowd in the right way. If the app concept needs to shift or evolve, it’s much easier to work with a web app than with a native app.
Let’s say you did make a wrong assumption, and your native app needs to change into something significantly different. Do you have the money to reinvest in another costly development? When you start with a web application, transitioning to a native app is simpler and safer. You can either jump to what they call a Hybrid application (combination of both) before going into full native app. Good entrepreneurs should always demand that their developers build a web app with a framework that allows an easier transition to native.
Think you’ve found the perfect app idea, and you’re ready to start developing so people can download it from the app store? Think twice. Just as some people like Pepsi over Coke, a lot of people like Android devices over Apple (iOS) ones. What’s my point? If you develop a native application, you’ll need to develop multiple native applications: for Apple devices, for Android Devices and, in a lot of cases, for Windows and even Blackberry devices. A single web application satisfies all devices regardless of the platform type and without the need to get approved by any OS manufacturer. What’s even better, you don’t have to share the profit with anybody else.
At ConsultR, we truly enjoy developing native, hybrid and web applications, but I feel that popular trends and a lack of information tend to misguide startup companies. It is impossible to plan for everything, but web applications can offer an alternative to risky, expensive, time-consuming native developments. A web application can fit your budget and timeframe while still achieving the same goal, and you can test your idea in the market before letting it evolve organically into a successful app.
Check out our team’s infographics for more on web apps, native apps, and hybrid apps.