For organizations looking to build a new application for their business, we explore the differences between building a full mobile application versus a simpler web application.

What’s the Difference? 

New applications can be built to perform all kinds of tasks to support your business needs.  One of the first questions when considering a new application is whether you need this application to be a full Mobile application or simply a Web-based app.  Here’s the main difference:

Mobile applications are available as public or private apps which are downloadable from the App store and require the app to be installed on your device before you can use it.

Web-based applications can be used without downloading the full application by simply navigating to the correct web address and using your login credentials (if password protected).  

Do They Work the Same Way? 

If designed correctly…

  • Web-based applications can operate offline just like mobile apps can.
  • Web-based apps and Mobile apps can provide nearly the same user experience. 
    • Mobile apps are still a bit better, but only a bit.
    • Web apps can still interact with much of the smartphone hardware, such as the camera and GPS (Mobile apps can interact with all the phone’s hardware).
  • If you need both app types, you can leverage shared code to build both a Mobile app and a Web-based app which costs substantially less than building them separately.

How to Decide?  (Pros and Cons) 

Advantages of a Mobile app:

  • The Apple store and Google Play store are ready-made marketing platforms.
    • Users can find your app by searching the app stores.
    • You get a marketing “boost” when your app gets good ratings, which helps your app get found even easier.
    • You can generate revenue by charging users for the app download.
  • Mobile apps are more “sticky” (higher usage from people who downloaded your app)
  • The user experience can be marginally better on a well-designed Mobile app than on a well-designed website.

Disadvantages of a Mobile app:

  • Barrier to entry:  It is harder to get someone to download your Mobile app than it is to get them to simply visit your website.
  • Higher cost:
    • It costs about 3x as much to build the exact same features in a Mobile app as it does to build a website with similar functionality.
    • Mobile apps require the user to upgrade to new versions, while web-based apps get upgraded on the server for all users at once.
    • App stores frequently change their requirements for apps (policy updates) which sometimes means considerable rework for new releases of your existing apps.
    • Apple and Google take a sizable percentage of your app sales revenue.
  • Capabilities like E-Commerce can be accomplished very effectively without the need to build a full Mobile app, and Web-based apps simply require users to visit the website.


Sometimes the decision to build a Mobile app or Web-based app is a technical one, but that’s rarely the case. Typically, your decision should be based on the cost (Mobile apps cost more), your marketing strategy (see Pros and Cons above), and the total cost of ownership (ROI and cost/benefit analysis).  Depending on your expected user base and the overall value to your organization, you can generally determine which type of application makes the most sense to build.  For best results, choose a developer with local (US-based) employees who can show you examples of other work they’ve done and help you define the right project to suit your needs.

Published by Adam Brown

Adam M. Brown is Vice President of Sales at EM Squared Inc., a custom software developer in Atlanta, GA specializing in business automation, mobile applications, custom integrations and the Internet of Things (IoT). Since 2001, EM Squared has served business clients and their IT teams by providing better integrated software, enabling more cohesive workflows, and removing unnecessary system constraints. Our deep experience with business systems may provide the answers you seek. Consultations are free and you can reach Adam at 404-556-5417 or email