Sunday Debate: Native Apps vs. Web Apps

Sunday Debate: Native Apps vs. Web Apps

Join us in a fun Sunday Debate on Web & Native Apps. Come with your opinions and feel free to read some of our thoughts, then pick your side or play devil’s advocate to get your voice heard and engage in friendly discussion. You can read our food-for-thought or jump straight into the fray below!

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After being used to the current app paradigm for the entirety of Android’s life, over-the-air changes might radicalize the way we understand Android and its app ecosystem. While web apps haven’t proven themselvs yet, synchronized developments might make them worthy soon.

Our current mobile experience is heavily reliant on native apps that sit on our homescreen, readily available for whenever we need them. Google has been experimenting with web-based alternatives, however, in various ways. First of all, we have the new app-streaming capabilities through Google searches, which allow you to test apps without actually downloading them. Second, changes to APIs and functions have made it easier for Chrome webpages to run background services, and now websites like Facebook can send notifications straight to your status bar (bye-bye Facebook app!). Finally, experimental Dart-programmed, web-aware and java-free “sky apps”  are said to be capable of reaching unprecedented levels of web app performance.

These experiments and more might be the initial glimpse of an odd new future for Android applications, one that might change the way we understand the mobile experience. That being said, such changes don’t come without re-adjustments, pros, and cons. Below is some food-for-thought with some pros and cons for each kind of app, but feel free to jump straight to the discussion below. So we ask:

  • Do you think web apps could fully replace native apps?
  • What are the biggest strengths of web apps?
  • Are hybrid apps a viable solution?
  • Which constraints do web apps face?
  • What would a web-based app ecosystem look like?

Join the discussion!


Native Apps

Native apps have served us well since the inception of smartphones, and web apps are currently lacking in reputation as the experience has traditionally been slow, clunky, and internet-dependent. Native apps might take up more space, but in general, smaller applications (the kind that web apps would initially replace) do not take huge chunks of storage in comparison to heavy apps, games, and media. Most importantly, though, native code is much faster than interpreted code at the moment, and this is a primary reason as to why many users haven’t had the best experiences with web apps. Native apps also give users more control, in the sense that they get to directly keep (and in some ways further manipulate) the purchase rather than borrow it from a server. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the developing world, native apps don’t necessarily require an internet connection (depending on the functionality). While we can’t see many kinds of apps becoming web-only, it’s worth considering that web apps would run through your data plan.

Web Apps

While they haven’t proven themselves quite yet, the potential of web apps is enormous. Assuming one manages to have a consistent internet connection, and that the app can cache intelligently, tomorrow’s flagship phones could run these smoothly enough for regular, non-frustrating usage — especially if software changes like the aforementioned Dart experiments come to fruition. Web apps don’t take up space (other than cacheing), allowing for extra room for media, but apart from that, because they are not in your phone’s storage, updates are automatic and hit as soon as the servers send out the updated app. This means that the app can iterate faster and solve bugs and security issues more efficiently as well. And because the language is shared across browsers, cross-platformess is much easier to achieve with web apps, allowing said updates to hit a broader number of devices with fewer headaches. All of this coupled with current and future APIs, such as ones that make use of the phone’s hardware like the camera, can make web apps very useful.

Debating

On one hand, the current standard has carried smartphones through an apogee and has proven good enough to last this long. A new web-based app paradigm could optimize many of the current system’s annoyances, but it would likely not be a rapid transition, and it’s hard to see many kinds of native apps and games ever leaving our storage. So once again, we ask:

  • Do you think web apps could fully replace native apps?
  • What are the biggest strengths of web apps?
  • Are hybrid apps a viable solution?
  • Which constraints do web apps face?
  • What would a web-based app ecosystem look like?