If you have ever used a service such as an online betting platform to make your NFL picks for the year, you might have noticed that you have the option to do this either through your browser of choice or by downloading a dedicated mobile app.
This practice is particularly prevalent in the online betting and iGaming sector, where many providers give users both options.
If this has happened to you in the past, you might also have wondered why you are given both options, particularly when the browser and the mobile app are equally easy to use.
Although the question of whether to use an app to deliver your service or to have it entirely browser-based is by no means a recent question, it has become more pressing in recent years as browser technology has advanced. With technologies such as HTML 5 making it possible to have powerful apps running in a browser, service providers are faced with the question of how they want to allocate their resources.
With this question in mind, in this short article, we will set out some of the considerations service providers face when trying to decide if they want to launch a dedicated mobile app or to develop a browser-based solution.
Apps vs browsers: What’s the difference?
Before we set out some of these considerations, we should first be clear on what we are talking about.
Both apps and browser-based solutions can be accessed on a range of different devices, which includes both desktop computers and mobile devices. A browser-based solution is a type of web-app that users access through a web browser. This can be done from essentially any device — mobile or otherwise — provided it has an updated web browser installed.
Web apps accessed through a browser will generally automatically scale to any device, regardless of whether the primary method of interface is a finger or a mouse. Web apps can display text content, images, videos and any other kind of data, and provide the full functionality you would expect from a traditional desktop-based app.
Apps on the other hand are actual ‘applications’ that are downloaded and installed on your device rather than being rendered within a browser. Users will access these apps through device-specific download portals — such as the Apple or Google Play store — where a version can be downloaded for various operating systems.
The app will then be installed on the device, after which it can pull content and data from the internet, pre-load content or accept user submitted data. Apps will be regularly updated either automatically or manually.
Apps vs browsers: Which is better?
The answer to the question of whether a business should develop a dedicated app to deliver their service or simply provide a browser-based app really depends on the type of business you have and your end goals.
For certain businesses, an app will be indispensable, particularly where the service being provided is graphics heavy or CPU intensive. However, if you want your website to simply act as a shopfront and provide simple ecommerce functions, an app is likely unnecessary.
With that said, here are some of the benefits of a having a mobile website:
- Mobile websites are available to customers instantly without forcing them to spend time downloading and signing up for an app. Forcing users to go through this process could add unnecessary obstacles between them making a purchase.
- Although you might encounter some scaling issues with browser apps, they do not generally experience compatibility issues to the same extent that mobile apps do.
- Browser-based apps can be updated pretty much instantly across all devices, while different versions of mobile apps must be kept up to date — particularly as operating system and firmware updates are released.
- There are fewer regulatory and licensing burdens when releasing a browser-based app, as different app stores have different terms of service you will have to meet.
- When you release a dedicated app, you are relying on a third-party to distribute it to end users, which in this case would be the mobile app stores.
- Mobile websites are also much easier for users to share among friends and families in comparison to apps. This potentially gives the website a bigger reach.
- Developing a dedicated app that works on multiple platforms and is kept fully updated requires significant organizational resources, including time, money and staff hours. There will also be costs associated with ongoing maintenance.
When do I need an app?
Despite the many clear benefits of browser-based apps versus standalone apps, there are nevertheless some circumstances when it is better to invest the resources into developing a standalone app. If you have requirements for any of the following elements, it might be best to develop a dedicated app:
- Highly interactive games: If you want to develop a game that is highly interactive and has advanced graphics, developing an app is advisable. This will ensure smoother graphical rendering and better user interfaces.
- Personalization and significant data inputs: If your web service involves a significant amount of data being submitted by users, this might be a good time to launch an app. This would be appropriate for social media services, note taking software or financial services.
- Hardware access: If your service will need to access device hardware, such as a built-in camera or microphone, it may be more effective to develop a standalone app.
- Offline access: If your service needs to provide offline access to content, it would be better to develop a standalone app. Web apps have limited access to storage, which would be a prerequisite for a mobile app.
Looking to the future
As mobile device ownership continues to increase, and if mobile app usage figures continue to trend upwards, the ‘web vs app’ question will continue to be relevant. While the answer to this question will depend on what your specific requirements are, this question will become more difficult to answer as technology advances.