Web and Native, Sitting in a Tree

Last night I read the delightful “Web Apps vs. Native Apps Is Still a Thing” by my he-doesn’t-know-me internet pal John Gruber. It’s a great piece, in response to this article from Wired.

The most salient point here:

Andreessen does have a solid point in the fact that app stores are in some ways a pain in the ass — particularly Apple’s App Store, with its deliberative and at times opaque approval process. But app stores are mostly only a pain in the ass for developers, not users.

I don’t think this can be overstated. App stores are incredibly convenient as a computer user. Even as a developer, the fact that I don’t have to think about collecting money when I make an app is – for 99% of apps – worth any pain endured in the opaque approval process.

I’ve had the opportunity to develop a large number of apps and websites at my day job. We build custom apps and websites for clients. So we get the “what should we build” question all the time.

Here’s how I break it down for them.

  • Apps are great if you want your customer to take ownership of and be connected with your brand. They are giving you space on their phone. My dead grandfather is always in my heart; your app is always in my pocket. It’s that big a deal.
  • Websites are great if you need a communication platform that can reach the largest number of users at any moment. There are hundreds of tools that let you get in somebody’s inbox, their text messages, their feed reader, and draw them back to your website, where you can communicate whatever you want to them.
  • Apps are an investment in your end user – you’re giving them a tool that is literally a piece of your business, whether it’s a service component, a calculator, a visualizer. You’re giving them the tool and trusting them to use it for something great.
  • Websites are an investment in your public relations and marketing departments. You’re giving them a tool to communicate effectively and play offense.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use apps to communicate marketing messages – and it doesn’t mean you can’t put tools on your website. It’s just where the two platforms shine. Ultimately, they are different things, and I don’t see them converging in the same way that Andreessen does.

Yes, the opaque approval process is a pain in the butt – especially when you are guiding a client through the process, and managing their expectations – but if the problem you’re trying to solve is better solved by a native app than a website, then it’s something you live with so that your users love you.

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