Mobile apps vs. mobile websites

If you are a bit hazy about the difference between a mobile app and a mobile website, we’ll try to clear up the confusion.

App is short for ‘application’, which essentially means a piece of software that serves a specified function. Applications that run on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are commonly referred to as ‘apps’, probably because it seems fitting to use the shortened name for the smaller device.

A web browser is itself an app

A web browser is a piece of software for viewing web pages (a website is a collection of related web pages). And so a web browser running on a smartphone or tablet is actually an ‘app’, and you can have one or more web browser apps loaded on your mobile device. The  web browser app allows you to view web pages on your phone or tablet. In other words, a web page is not an app, it is a simply a document. You can view that document by using your web browser app.

Other types of apps serve other functions, such as banking, investing, playing games, ordering groceries or providing information about your insurance policies. Apps can do all kinds of things. Websites can also do all kinds of things, but a web browser app (such as Firefox or Chrome) is needed to view them and allow them to perform their functions.

The same functions can be provided by a website or an app, but the app is a standalone entity, and doesn’t require a web browser. As such, it often is easier to operate and more flexible. The disadvantage is that users must download the app from either Apple’s App Store or Google Play, and install it on their device. You will need to develop two versions of your application, a website version and an app, if you wish to support users in both environments.

Users may be reluctant to download and install an app that they don’t expect to use very often, as their devices tend to become cluttered with lots of apps, which makes it difficult to find the ones they need. But if you expect to frequently engage with your users, an app certainly can offer advantages.