What is the difference between mobile and web applications?

What is the difference between mobile and web applications?

Ibrahim | Otimbi Labs
20 Jan 2021

There is a common misconception that native mobile applications and web applications are similar, but in reality, the two are very different.

Today mobile applications as well as web applications are present everywhere in our daily life. Whether I want to book a car for my next weekend or automate my company's billing, chat with a community or schedule appointments for my sales representatives, I generally use applications. But do you know the difference between mobile applications and web applications?

There is a common misconception that native mobile applications and web applications are similar, but in reality, the two are very different.

Not only are there are major differences for the user but they are also developed and deployed differently, so it is important not to confuse the two.

First of all, it may be useful to distinguish between web applications and websites. Simply put, a web application is a fluidly designed website that responds to the visualization on a smartphone. There are many types of websites, some static and rarely updated, while others are reactive and highly interactive. Web applications, in particular, work like downloadable applications, but via your phone's browser.

But let's explain in detail so that you can understand the specifics of both.

Mobile and Web applications

Native mobile applications are designed for a specific platform, such as iOS for the iPhone or Android for a Samsung device. They are downloaded and installed via an application store and have access to system resources such as GPS and camera functionality. Mobile applications live and run on the device itself. Snapchat, Instagram, Google Maps and Facebook Messenger are some examples of popular mobile applications.

Web applications, on the other hand, are accessible via the Internet browser and will work on any device on which you view them. They are not native to a particular system and do not need to be downloaded or installed. Because of their reactive nature, they look and work almost like mobile applications - and that's where the confusion comes in. Web applications require an active Internet connection to run, while mobile applications can run offline. Mobile applications have the advantage of being faster and more efficient, but they require the user to download updates regularly. Web applications update automatically.

Most importantly, mobile and web applications are designed and built in very different ways. To further distinguish the two, it is useful to understand how they are developed.

How are mobile applications built?

Mobile applications are more expensive to develop than Web applications, and because they are platform-specific, launching an application on different platforms means almost starting from scratch in terms of design and development. However, they are much faster and tend to be more advanced in terms of features and functionality.

Native mobile applications use specific languages and Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) depending on the intended platform. Apple devices run on the native iOS operating system, so Apple applications are created using Objective-C or Swift and the Xcode IDE. Native applications for Android are written in Java and are usually built using Android Studio or the Eclipse IDE.

Apple and Google also provide their own development tools, interface elements and software development kits (SDKs) that developers can use to create native mobile applications.

How are web applications built?

Web applications tend to be built using JavaScript, CSS and HTML5. Unlike mobile applications, there is no standard SDK for building web applications. However, developers do have access to templates. Compared to mobile applications, Web applications are generally faster and easier to create, but they are much simpler in terms of functionality.

Progressive Web Applications: the best of both?

According to the latest trends in web development, you should also become familiar with progressive web applications. While standard web applications lack some of the functionality that mobile applications can offer, progressive web applications fall somewhere in between.

Unlike standard web applications (and more so native mobile applications), progressive web applications can run offline and load extremely quickly. This is mainly due to the sophistication of the modern browser: thanks to application caching, websites can now store large volumes of data offline. As a result, progressive web applications can be used without an Internet connection, giving them some of the functionality of native applications such as push notifications, native video and audio capture, and native video playback.

Like standard web applications, progressive web applications do not require downloading or installation. In many ways they seem to offer the best of both worlds.

Advantages and disadvantages of mobile and web applications

Now that we know the fundamental differences between mobile and web applications, we can summarize the advantages and disadvantages of each:

Native mobile applications


  • Faster than Web applications
  • More functionality because they have access to system resources
  • Ability to work offline
  • Safe and secure - native applications must first be approved by the App Store
  • Easier to build thanks to the availability of development tools, interface elements and
  • Software Development Kits (SDKs)


  • More expensive to build than Web applications
  • Compatibility with different platforms (iOS and Android) usually means designing and building the application from scratch.
  • Costly to maintain and update
  • It can be difficult to get a native application approved by the App Store.

Web-based applications


  • There is no need to download or install the software - web applications run in the browser.
  • Easy to maintain - they have a common code base regardless of the mobile platform.
  • They are updated automatically
  • Faster and easier to create than mobile applications
  • Do not require approval from the application library, so they can be launched quickly


  • Do not work offline
  • Slower than mobile applications and less advanced in terms of functionality
  • They may not be as easy to find as mobile applications because they are not listed in a
  • specific database, such as the App Store for example.
  • Quality and security are not always guaranteed - web applications do not need to be approved by an application store

At Otimbi Labs we build high quality apps for iOS and Android operating systems using platform-specific programming languages like Swift, Objective-C, Java, Kotlin. We are also specialized in building hybrid apps using tools like Flutter and React.

Mobile apps web apps progressive web apps

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