Who is the real winner in the web app vs native app debate?

The scene was set. Two tables setup on either side of the room, populated by some of the industries most respected figures. Just a microphone and a projector separating the two.

You could sense the anticipation from the attendees. Yes, it was time for the web app vs. native app debate.

We’ve attended a few debates such as this and they always spark great conversations. The session at Mobile Monday Manchester was no exception with some very well informed discussion and facts.

Before we start, this isn’t a post about the technical merits between native and web app. The panel expertly delivered that. Rather, it’s more about the client and if there is anything missing to any debate around web app vs. native, it can sometimes just be that.

Client Knowledge

Mobile development is an art and science in itself. It is a complex process with risks, assumptions and many dependencies. Client expectations can be sky high. So should we expect our client to understand the differences between a web app or native development? Probably not.

Would the client really care either way as long as they receive the product they had requested from you? Probably not.

Sometimes, and not intentionally it can feel a bit like technology vs. client; putting them in the position to choose the right one. Choice is good however but I guess it’s on what criteria the choice is made.
cut up web app
Maybe this is a by-product of these types of debates. Generally however, clients do not know their CSS from their Objective-C and if they do, then be prepared for an interesting project.

What clients do know and want is a product that meets their requirements, is delivered on time; to specification and on budget. That however, is just delivering the contract – an expected role of the development agency. To truly delight the client and their customer, we must look to exceed their expectations whichever which way we can. This means creating a great buying experience from the very start. To do that, we need to make sure that there is a good ‘technology-to-client’ fit which leads nicely onto the next section…

We Want It All

In my view, there are three underlying requirements from a client. You may not know them but the client has them in their mind at all times.

1. They want the product to be of the highest quality
2. Developed with the lowest possible cost and…
3. Developed in the shortest possible time

In reality, the client can’t have all of them. They can only have a combination and maybe it’s in these scenarios that we could place some loose categorisation of choice between web app and native?


For example, could we position HTML5 as a lower cost alternative than native development but it will take longer to develop?A game developed natively will provide the highest quality but it will be the most expensive, and so on.

I don’t think we need to go too deep into the un-scientific nature of this method but it could provide a very loose structure into framing the client’s requirements and their expectations. What I’m trying to achieve here is that it comes down to what fits the client best and to do that we need to make sure that the pre-sales and opportunity qualification is spot on.

Both technologies can co-exist with another quite happily; as long as we question, challenge and re-qualify the client brief. Heck, they may not even need an app and if so, we should tell them early!

Winner – The Client.

They get the best product matched to their requirements and their customer receives the best possible user experience matched to their requirements.

Visibility and Discovery

This is an interesting one. Do web apps allow for better customer discovery than a native application in the mobile app store? Or, can a native application provide the initial surge of downloads that a web application could only hope for?

Well, if you are not a major recognised brand with 1.3m Facebook users or running a National TV campaign then don’t expect a surge of downloads, native or web app.

What we do know is that people don’t search the app store like they search Google. The search behaviour is different as are the algorithms running the app store’s and Google’s search engine.

What you should be doing is both. That is, optimising your application for the app store and optimising your application for ‘search’ visitors, paid and organic.

Quite often, we’ve seen the conversation of discovery being put on the back burner closer to the launch of the product. Indeed this makes sense, but if we are trying to frame client’s requirements accurately and set their expectations, then this conversation needs to start at the very beginning and KPI’s need to be set.

There are lots of tools that we use at Integrated Change to do this, all deployed very differently depending on the target market, the customer profile, their demographic, platform behaviour, cost per acquisition and so on…

In fact, our friends across the pond recently guest posted on our site about app store optimisation. Only last week we wrote about the Penguin 2.0 update and the importance of content and previous to this we wrote about how to use video SEO to increase visitor conversion.


If you have developed a native app, why not use Apple’s Link Maker and Smart App Banners ? These nifty tools display a banner (shown above; Image courtesy of Apple) in Safari iOS with a direct link to download your native app. It provides a much better user experience than the hideous pop-up screens you see all too often.



Google have some neat tools as well. One of those is ‘mobile app extensions’ which helps to enhance CTR’s by providing a link to download the app alongside your ad copy.

You can also tailor the platform they appear on (iOS or Android) by using Google’s ‘app promotion ads’ feature.
Oh, and let’s not forget offline PR, social media, good old organic SEO and blogger outreach: all powerful tools for app exposure. All these tactics and many more should form part of the discovery plan. It doesn’t matter whether it’s being developed in HTML5 or natively. It’s the integration of several tactics to form one strategy – getting more of your clients’ target customers to eyeball their product.

Winner – The Client.

They get a specific, tailored marketing strategy to deliver upon set KPI’s

And The Winner Is..?

You guessed it, the client. Technology is a wonderful thing, especially when it’s so closely matched to the end objective. There are some great undiscovered native and web applications out there. What actually is required is a joined-up process that allows for both web app and native apps to co-exist and to be discovered by an integrated marketing strategy.

There have been many versus debates over the course of the decade around technology; I’m old enough to remember the megadrive Vs. SNES debate!

However, it doesn’t matter how well placed the arguments are who they come from, the real winner in all of this is the customer. For me, that is the most important aspect.

What do you think – do you agree?