Should I build a web or mobile application for my new idea or project?

When it comes to building the technology for your next startup or project you will face several important decisions to make. There is no definitive right or wrong answer but it all depends on your needs, budget and plans for the future.

Let’s begin by understanding each option.

What is a web application

A web application is an application that runs on your browser (Chrome, Safari, etc). it typically looks like a website but has a lot more functionality than just content and hyperlinks. It typically has a database behind and you can often register, log-in and log-out of it and perform tasks on it. Samples of a web application are Gmail (when used from your browser), Google Docs, QuickBooks online, Facebook, etc.

Technically speaking a web application is typically written using HTML, CSS, Javascript and some sort of backend technology like PHP, Node.js or Java.

What is a mobile application

A mobile application is one you download on your phone (simple enough?). Typically you get it from the Apple Store, or the Google Play store, it installs on your phone and then you can launch it with a tap on your phone. Applications like Uber, Waze, WhatsApp are all mobile applications. They live on your phone.

From a technical perspective, these are often written in Objective-C or Swift for iPhone or Java for Android and most of them will make use of a database or other services.

Which should I use?

Should you build an app to run as a webpage (that can be accessed from a mobile device) or does it need to be a full-featured mobile app, downloadable from the app stores?

This is a tricky one. Everyone wants a mobile app, but not everyone needs one. Think about what your app needs. Does it need to access functions on the mobile device such as GPS, camera, movement sensor (gyroscope)? If you don’t need any of these or barely just need the camera, then it is likely you can go with a web solution.

Gaining customers loyalty via a mobile app is sometimes cited as a strategy. This may be the case but consider the cost/benefit on this one. Making a mobile app is typically more expensive than a regular web app. You also need to consider multiple OS (Android, IOS / Apple, maybe more)?

Nowadays you can also get away with building a hybrid app. Built for the web and packaged for multiple devices (my favourite solution). It is a bit more expensive than a web app but considerably less expensive than building a mobile app, plus it gives you most all of the benefits of a regular app. This is known as a write once, run everywhere – and who wouldn’t like that!.

Finally, unless your app is a game, or very intense on user interactions (double and triple taps, horizontal vs vertical phone, etc) then you don’t really need a native app.

Hybrid Applications

So unless you are creating a game or an extremely complex application I recommend you use a hybrid technology. Hybrid technologies allow your technical team to create the 50-90% of the application code once, and then write the remaining part for each of your platfrorms (web, iPhone, Android, Windows, etc). This reason enough will save you in more than one way. The project is more economical, it requires less time and having less code means less opportunity for bugs.


So on your next project, don’t let the “expertise” of the company presenting a proposal, decide on this important choice. Make an informed decision from the start.


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