Differences between web application (websites) and installable applications (Native apps)


Nowadays we use lot of software applications in our daily life. Some of them we install into our smartphones and PCs and others we directly open in web browsers. So what is the real difference between these two types of applications as far as technicality is concerned. Let us explore more about it in this article.

Introduction

In the software world, we have basically two types of applications. Web applications also called websites which we open on our mobile or PC web browsers. Second is installable or native applications which we cannot open directly in web browsers but they have to be installed on our mobile devices or PC. There is a third category called hybrid applications which combine the features of the both, but we will not talk about it here. So let us talk about the main features and primary differences between these two types of software applications.

Web applications versus Installable (Native) applications

  • Installation : Web applications require no installation and one can directly open them from any web browser like Chrome, IE, Firefox etc from any device. So they are kind of ready to use. There is no overhead of having to download the application and then install it. On the other hand, installable applications need to be downloaded and installed on the mobile or the PC to be able to use them. So there is an overhead of downloading and installation for installable applications. We normally download exe file for the installable application for our Windows PC. For the mobile devices, this file format is different. For example, for Android, it is apk file which we need to download.
  • Portability : Web applications or websites are much more portable to use compared to native applications. Websites can be opened from any web browsers and any PC or mobile devices and you do not need to be confined to one particular device to use it. On the other hand, installable applications can only be used on the device in which they have been installed. If you want to use it from other devices then you need to install it fresh in that device. So portability is not there in this case.
  • Opening the application : Web applications or websites can be opened from any web browsers while in case of installable applications do not need a web browser to open them. After you install them an application icon or shortcut appears on your mobile or PC screen which can be clicked to launch them.
  • Application functionality : Both these applications follow a client-server model. This means that in addition to client-side software like a web browser and installed application at the front end, at the back end it is connected to a server. This server normally handles the important functionality of the applications like login, fund transfer etc. In case of web applications functionality is mainly handled by the servers at the backend while the browsers at the client side mainly handle the presentation part of the web application, for example how the web page will appear with all its links, buttons, images etc. The case is different in installable applications. Here the application functionality resides in both client side and server side. So for applications like Accuweather installed on mobile, the functionality is distributed between the client side software which is installed on mobile and the server-side software on the remote server.
  • Performance : When we say performance we mean how fast the application responds and how smooth it is while using. It is found that installable applications outperform the web applications in performance. Installable applications are quick to open and launch and working wisely they seem fast. On the other and web applications sometimes lag in performance if the internet speed is not good and there is a server problem. You may have seen sometimes some websites load slowly and have poor response time causing a lot of inconveniences. The reason behind the difference in performance is that in installable applications some or most of the functionality is installed on your local device, mobile or PC, and server dependency is not so heavy. Hence something which is in your local memory will always open fast. Whereas for web applications there is no functionality available on the client-side web browser and most of the functionality is located on the remote server. So it is heavily depended on the network connection. Everything you do on a website needs the response from the remote server and hence sometimes response time goes down if there is a server problem or internet speed is slow.
  • Hardware access : If you have carefully observed, installable or native applications installed on your PC or mobile can access your device hardware if the functionality requires it to do so. So you may have seen Skype application on your Windows PC automatically switches on your PC webcam once you enable video call. Similarly, applications like paytm on your mobile device accesses your device camera when you select scan and pay option. Web applications cannot take this kind of hardware control on your device since they are not installed on the device and all the logic is on the server side.
  • Update : For a company who is owning the application be it web or native application, require to update their application regularly for all its user to give more features, fix the issues and to give better user experience. This update process is easy and less time consuming and cumbersome if the company has web application rather than installable application. This is due to the fact that in web applications they simply need to update the software on their server side and all the users will get the update once they open the website in their web browser. For native applications, this process is very time consuming as along with updating the software on the server, update to the client-side software is also to be released and all the users should be informed to reinstall the latest version of the software in their devices. Again based on the types of devices people are using like PC, Android smartphone, Apple smartphone companies have to release different versions of software for different devices.
  • Network dependency : Web applications are more heavily dependent on networks and require good internet speed compared to installable applications. This is because in web applications everything has to be processed at server side and downloaded over the internet. In case of installable applications since functionality also resides at client side so network dependency is there but not too heavy. Hence installable applications sometimes work even in slow network speed.In fact there are many installable applications which are stand alone and do not require any server at the backend. Such applications are totally installed on the local devices and they do not require internet connection to function. Examples of such applications are calculators on your PC and smartphones, windows media player, Contacts etc.


Conclusion

There are many companies nowadays like Amazon, Flipkart etc which have both, websites, as well as installable applications and users, have the liberty to use them both. While there are companies who either have a native app or a website but not both. Whether to use an installable app or website depends on user preferences. Installable apps are more meant to be used from the smartphones and are usually developed for popular smartphone platforms like Android and iOS. Using installable app rather than a website is easier and faster for the user as far as usage on mobile devices is concerned. Web applications and websites are more commonly used from PCs where we do not have too many installable applications available as compared to the mobile devices. But installing too many apps on your mobile devices does fill your memory and slow down the device performance. So I feel we should not go for installing each and every app on the smartphones. We should try to install only important applications which we are going to frequently use and for rest of them try to use the websites. If we see that website is slow in responding then we can think of installing the app on our mobile device.


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