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What Is The Difference Between a Mobile App and a Web App?

There is a common misconception that native mobile apps and web apps are the same things — but actually, the two are very different.

Not exclusively are their differences for the user; they are also developed and deployed differently, so it’s important not to get the two confused.

To start with, however, it can be helpful to recognize web applications and websites. Basically, a web application is a website designed fluidly, responding to being viewed on a smartphone. There is a wide range of kinds of websites out there, some are static and rarely updated, while others are responsive and have a great deal of interactivity. Web applications, particularly, work like downloadable applications, yet all from the comfort of your phone’s browser.

Mobile apps vs. web apps

Native mobile apps are worked for a specific stage, for example, iOS for the Apple iPhone or Android for a Samsung device. They are downloaded and installed via an app store and have access to system resources, such as GPS and the camera function. Mobile apps live and run on the device itself. Snapchat, Instagram, Google Maps and Facebook Messenger are some examples of popular mobile apps.

Web applications, on the other hand, are gotten to through the web program and will adjust to whichever device you’re viewing them on. They are not local to a specific system and don’t should be downloaded or installed. Due to their responsive nature, they do indeed look and function a lot like mobile apps — and this is where the confusion arises.

Let’s consider the Yelp native app vs. the web app. If you install the Yelp app on your mobile and then access via the browser on your phone, you’ll notice that the web app has been made to look and feel like the native mobile app: it turns your browser barred, and when you scroll down, locks the search bar in place.

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While the designs are similar and follow the same fonts and color scheme, these are essentially two different products.

Web apps need an active internet connection in order to run, whereas mobile apps may work offline. Mobile apps have the advantage of being faster and more efficient, but they do require the user to regularly download updates. Web apps will update themselves.

Above all, mobile apps and web apps are designed and built very differently. To further differentiate between the two, it helps to understand how each is developed.

Mobile apps vs. web apps: The pros and cons
Now we know the fundamental differences between mobile and web apps, we can recap the pros and cons of each:

Native mobile apps: 


  • Faster than web apps
  • Greater functionality as they have access to system resources
  • Can work offline
  • Safe and secure — native apps must first be approved by the app store
  • Easier to build due to the availability of developer tools, interface elements, and SDKs


  • More expensive to build than web apps
  • Compatibility with different platforms (i.e. iOS and Android) usually means designing and building the app from scratch
  • Expensive to maintain and update
  • It may prove difficult to get a native app approved by the app store

Web apps


  • Do not need to be downloaded or installed — web apps function in-browser
  • Easy to maintain — they have a common codebase regardless of mobile platform
  • Will update themselves
  • Quicker and easier to build than mobile apps
  • Do not require app store approval, so can be launched quickly


  • Do not work offline
  • Slower than mobile apps, and less advanced in terms of features
  • May not be as discoverable as mobile apps as they are not listed in a specific database, such as the app store
  • Quality and security are not always guaranteed — web apps don’t need to be approved by the app store.

So now you know the difference between native mobile apps and web apps. If you’re interested in building your own app, read our guide to mobile app development tools or check out our UI for UX designers course.

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