A Web-first or Mobile-first approach to application development?

Everything a non-technical individual or business owner needs to know before developing a digital application.

Web-first or Mobile-first approach to application development

Understanding Websites, Web applications, and Mobile applications

Website:

A website, as the name suggests, is a site or a collection of web pages, which are primarily intended to provide specific information to a user or visitor. Some examples of websites are the news, blogs, and product description pages that we see on a day-to-day basis. To further deconstruct this with some real-time examples, the page that you’re currently on is a web-page. It is static, meaning that it provides the same information to any visitor who reads this. Or, take, for example, our website, 91social.com. The purpose of our site is to let our clients or visitors know about our work and the services that we provide. It also acts as a platform for creating awareness about certain technologies or processes that may help businesses grow.

Responsive Web Design:

Responsive Web Design is a process of developing websites to ensure that the content on it responds and adjusts to various devices depending on their screen size, resolution, browser, etc. “Mobile devices account for approximately half of the web traffic worldwide”, and the trends show that this share is increasing year-on-year. If your customers and visitors fall into the category of those who primarily use mobile devices to browse the internet, it would make sense to design the site keeping them in mind. This thought process is what we call the “mobile-first” approach. Designing the experience and content keeping the smallest screen in mind, and then adding elements and content that are well displayed and engage the audience. This approach is also said to benefit the businesses by better ranking and indexing the mobile-first content on Google’s Search Engine Result’s Page over the desktop equivalent.

Image from freepik.com

Web Application:

Web applications are applications that can be run on the browser without having to install them on a system. Unlike websites, web applications are more dynamic and require interaction between the user and the application to solve the user’s problem. Some examples of web applications that we use daily could include e-commerce applications like Amazon or Flipkart; Social media applications like Facebook, LinkedIn; productivity tools like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, and so on. At an enterprise level, Software as a Service(SaaS) applications also falls into the category of web applications.

Mobile App:

  1. System apps — Apps that are present by default along with the Operating System, such as the Phone(Dialer), Camera, Gallery, etc. These apps are developed to work well with the hardware and provide basic functionality.
  2. Third-party apps — These are apps that are created by developers who wish to make them available to the smartphone users through the platform’s app store.

Now that we know what system apps and third-party apps are, let us delve deeper into how these third-party apps are developed.

Native Apps:

A native mobile app is an application that is developed on the same platform or programming language that is used to develop the operating system itself. For example, to build a native app on the iOS platform, third-party developers need to use Objective C/Swift programming language. Similarly for Android, Java/Kotlin is the programming language that is used.

  • It’s the look and feels is consistent with that of the Operating System(OS) itself, and performs better than hybrid applications.
  • It is easier to access the hardware and system-level functionality on a native application.

Hybrid Apps

Hybrid apps are cross-platform mobile apps, created using languages such as HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript, and by utilizing a plethora of frameworks available such as Apache Cordova, React Native, PhoneGap, etc. These languages help create webview elements/objects that are encapsulated as a native application wrapper, which when compiled for a specific platform will run as a native app within its browser. It is widely believed that Uber develops its app as a hybrid app, and yet, works well on both iOS and Android platforms.

Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) sit somewhere between a regular web application and a native mobile app. A regular web application is accessible over multiple devices and operating systems, and provides a consistent experience to all the users, with a single codebase. On the other hand, native apps, as we had discussed previously, provide a rich user interface, perform tasks flawlessly due to their ability to make use of the OS features and system hardware. However, they are restricted to one platform/operating system, and for the app to reach the user network of other platform, it needs to be developed on another operating system as well. This may seem to be a costly development process, as multiple codebases have to be maintained. This is where PWAs come to rescue, by providing native experience on multiple platforms.

Source: What are PWAs — Web Dev
Source: Getting Started with Progressive Web Apps — Google Developers

Final thoughts on choosing the right development approach

A business owner should be clear about the problem that he/she is solving, and what their customer profile could be like. If the purpose of having a website or a mobile app is to keep the customers informed about the latest products and services of a business, then a responsive web app or a PWA could be what you want to build. If your primary target market uses mobile phones more than desktops, then you may want to start with a hybrid app, and as your business grows, you might want to either convert it to a PWA, or native apps for multiple platforms. For most small and medium businesses though, building native apps might not be the right approach, unless they want to differentiate through in-app user experience or, unless the business has enough resources to maintain native apps on two platforms. Whatever is the development approach that your business chooses, make sure to take a mobile-first route.

If you're looking for some help turning your idea into a product, visit us at 91social.com. Alternatively, you can contact us at social@91social.com or on +91 95130 07587.

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