Before deciding which format is best suited to a particular publisher, it is important to understand the difference between Native Apps and Web Apps (which are not really “apps” at all).
Native apps are installed on a device and are accessed through icons on the device home screen and they are installed through an application store (such as Google Play or Apple’s App Store). Native apps are developed specifically for one platform, can take full advantage of all the device features, can use the device’s notification system and can be used offline. Native apps offer some unique advantages over non-native alternatives, including providing marketing value through an app store and the ability to push notifications to readers.
Web apps are not real applications. They are websites that are created to look and feel like native apps, but they do not work the same way. Web apps are run by a browser and typically written in HTML5. Users first access them as they would any web page – by navigating to a specific URL and then having the option of “installing” them on their home screen by creating a bookmark to that page. There are fewer barriers to accessing content on a “web app” – literally, no apps to download, no issues to download, and no storage space to consider. A reader need only click on a link to start consuming content.
Web apps have their own unique set of benefits and challenges. Features such as responsive design across multiple platforms, the ability to better track user interaction, and ease of updating are just a few, but a less immersive user experience and comparatively weak multimedia support remain major challenges for the format.
Publishers are struggling to develop rich, immersive apps for Apple and Android devices both big and small and offering both options, while a solution for very big publishers, is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor for small and mid-sized publishing houses. At this time it appears that the majority of publishers are showing a preference for native app technology, despite the extra time and money the technology requires. The rich, vibrant experience offered by native apps is central to building a brand in the digital arena, and digital success will ultimately depend on a publisher’s ability to easily deploy appealing, engaging content across multiple platforms in order to reach the greatest potential audience.