Website, web application or mobile app - what's the difference?

13 May 2020
Read time: 5 mins

Written by:
Nate McMillan.

When it comes to the world of websites, web applications and apps, things can get complicated! We're here to help clear things up a little, so you can find the right solution for your requirements.

If you'd like to skip the slightly more technical part (we understand it's not for everyone!), then scroll down to the "So, do I need a website or an app?" section for a list of pros and cons for each.

What's the difference and why does it matter?

These are terms for various methods in which you can deliver your product.

As a very simple rule:

These terms are subjective, but help formulate the language we use, the focus we take and the technologies we use...

When working with websites, the goal is to provide information, pages, rich content, languages etc - this means you're probably looking for a content management system which focuses on creating pages and menu items, which gives the flexibility to alter layout and styling options.

When we work with web applications though, we tend to focus on delivering services, data, customers, subscriptions, and orders. (As well as maintaining some fairly complicated data!)

Mobile apps are a completely different approach - here we are looking for something which has a specific benefit to being run natively as part of your mobile device, which the user downloads from the Apple Store / Play Store.

How does it all work?

For websites, we often find that MODX is the best fit. The fantastic thing about MODX is its flexibility; we can make the system as powerful, or as simple as you want. MODX can do pretty much anything you could possibly ask of a content management system (CMS) - pages, menus, galleries, rich content, languages, SEO. Essentially you end up with a system which is far more powerful and elegant than Wordpress, but doesn't have the 1,000 knobs and buttons that you never use in Joomla or Drupal.

When it comes to web applications, we use "full-stack frameworks" such as Symfony and Laravel - these offer powerful tools for data modelling, scalability and large scale maintenance. These frameworks are tried and tested - good examples include Spotify, DailyMotion and Trivago.

For Apps, we use React Native - this is a language which compiles to your native mobile language. This gives benefits in terms of speed, as well as incorporating your native user interface (so when it's on an iPhone it looks like an Apple App!) Examples of Apps built in this include Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.

So, do I need a website or an app?

The big question - website or app? Quite often, a lot of what can be offered in an app, is also achievable through a well designed and built responsive website. And typically once it's launched, a website is easier and cheaper to maintain and administer (as it's in one place), unlike an app, where you have potentially multiple platforms to consider each time you make an update (Apple, Android etc).

A few years ago, the word 'app' felt very much like a buzz word. Everyone wanted an app during the smart phone boom. The sheer convenience of having access to something in one tap on your home screen, was what everyone wanted. And that's still very much the case today as well. But, if that app was to exist as a website, what would be the impact to the user? They would instead have to visit the site using a URL in a browser, and potentially log in to some kind of account area. And it's that impact which has to be weighed up, when considering whether to create a website or mobile app. Is that small saving of time, worth the extra time, effort and investment to create and maintain an app across multiple platforms?

Some pros and cons to websites and mobile apps:

Website (pros):

Website (cons):

App (pros):

App (cons):

Need help?

If you need help navigating the world of websites and apps - then we're here to help. We're a full-service creative agency and offer a range of creative services, including web design, SEO, branding and graphic design. Get in touch to see how we can help your business!

Written by:
Nate McMillan.

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