Why native apps remain unrivalled by web apps in user experience and discoverability

By Ramona Neitz on February 14, 2013 4 Comments

The decision to go native, web or hybrid with your app is an important one, and depends largely on your specific app business model and objectives. But one thing’s for sure; for a seamless user experience and discoverability, native is the only choice. Web apps just won’t cut it in that regard, neither do they offer good discoverability. While hybrid apps (which are simply web apps inside a native shell) make a good happy medium between the two, they are still somewhat limited in their functionality and performance.

Here’s some more detail on the three main reasons why native apps remain unrivalled by web apps:

User experience

If you want your app to look good, function quickly and smoothly, native is the best choice. Hybrid apps can be a cost-effective middle ground; they can perform reasonably well and can also access most mobile device APIs such as camera, light and GPS. The same can’t always be said for web apps however, which function within a mobile web browser, they have limited API access and underperform against users’ high expectations, behaving much like a website sometimes. Though there’s extra time and effort involved in coding native apps for each operating system, the benefits in terms of user experience are worth it.

By way of example, here is a screenshot from the Twitter mobile website (L) next to one from the native app (R). The native app uses the full screen and behaves much more responsively, providing a full native look and feel – and a better, smoother user experience.

 

Web apps aren’t ‘write once, run everywhere’ either

Although web technologies are evolving all the time, native apps will always provide an immaculate and immersive user experience. The coding language differs from platform to platform, but even web and hybrid apps can’t use the ‘write once and run everywhere’ code that we’re often led to believe. They still require testing, optimizing and fine-tuning per platform just like native apps in order to provide a native-like experience. Even then, the result can be alienating for users, as web and hybrid apps simply don’t ‘feel’ native.

Discoverability

Discoverability is more straightforward with native apps. This is because they sit in the app stores, precisely where users expect to find apps. There is no equivalent, well-known store for web apps. For both native and hybrid apps, getting your app found is a case of combining app marketing campaigns and app store marketing techniques such as ASO (app store optimization, like SEO for the app stores) and attaining a coveted ‘Featured’ spot, for example. Since web apps are naturally found on the web and web app stores are largely unheard of, your app is less likely to get found by users simply searching – which is a large part of how apps are discovered. Hybrid apps also sit in the app store but are coded like web apps. They take less time, effort and maintenance than native apps, while being easier to discover than web apps.

It’s certainly the case that neither fully native, nor fully web have a permanent or decisive tech advantage, but native apps are simply thought of as ‘better’ from a user experience and performance perspective. To meet users’ high expectations for user experience, go native. Going hybrid is a slightly cheaper option which can make sense for some apps if compromising a little on performance and look isn’t a problem – and there’s an added benefit of being able to change content without updating the app. Web apps are difficult to find, users tend not to like them as much because of the poor, non-app like user experience. In the end, it all depends on your app and your business objectives.