Anyone who has used GMail or the likes knows what a WebApp is. It is a browser-based application served over the Internet (or any other network). One difference between a Web page and a WebApp is that the latter, typically has more interactive options like buttons, icons and alerts, like a regular application. While the initial versions of WebApps needed an always-on Internet connection, the latest WebApps can be used just like native apps, with limited or no Internet connection. Some examples of the best WebApp alternatives to native apps are from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Citibank, Financial Times and paytm.com. A blessing to WebApp developers is `WebKit’, the layout engine common to Android and Apple Safari browsers. This makes a WebApp available to a wide range of mobile devices in the market.
The WebApps trend
Web 2.0 technologies made the power of native desktop applications available to browser-based WebApps. Google Docs, for example, gives users almost the same functionality as desktop-based office suites. It is a nobrainer to predict the same trend on mobile devices. In fact, according to experts, what took three decades to mature on PCs will happen in the next five years on mobile devices? The convergence of three important trends is key to the evolution of WebApps on mobiles. While betterperforming smartphones favour both native apps and WebApps equally, the declining tariffs of mobile data services and the standardisation of improved Open Web technologies favour WebApps.
WebApps or native apps?
Aspects in which WebApps score better than native apps
- App distribution: A native app needs to be made available through Google Play (formerly Android Market), which is controlled by Google. Other sources require end users to have complete trust in the app gateway and the app you are providing. A WebApp, in contrast, just needs to be hosted on a Web server, and the URL is provided to the user.
- New releases and patches: New versions of WebApps can be made available with no extra effort from the end user. A native app requires users to ‘update’ it (download and install) from Google Play. The end user has to put in much less effort for WebApps.
- Supporting multiple platforms: Android comes with a built-in standards-based Web browser. Developing WebApps for this platform will also make the app available on any other mobile platform that has a -compliant Web browser, like Safari or Firefox. This aspect could be a major differentiator for WebApps if end users want the service/application to be available on multiple devices that run various different OSs, where native apps must exist and be installed for each, while a single URL to the WebApp works for all.
- Speed and ease of development: A WebApp takes considerably less time and effort to develop, compared to a native app. It is easy to get developers with skills in Web technologies.
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