From your real life experience & executed work.

How to choose between starting a project as a Phone App or a Web App ?

From what I've read, it is a matter of : the need vs time & $ cash to solve it.

I am not sure for the long term & with a limited budget what path to take.

My main concerns and comparisons :

Phone App

  • locked in on a given platform
  • specific to each device
  • specific dev skills needed for each device
  • cost of programming
  • cost of distributing
  • limited distribution channel

Web App

  • open platform
  • multiple devices friendlier
  • overlapping dev skills
  • cost of programming
  • no distribution cost
  • no distribution channel

What are your Pros / Cons

  • Depends on who will pay the money and nothing else really! Feb 29, 2012 at 15:35

6 Answers 6


Look at appcelerator if your concerned about cross platform development. Also, the functionality of your app should be dictating how you develop your application instead of the stuff you listed. For example, writing an application that performs some periodic task is much easier if the client device is doing all the work whereas for a web app you would need to develop some kind of queuing system for performing periodic tasks which would all need to happen on your server. If you need to notify your users based on stuff that happens because of the periodic work then it is much easier to use the native notification system of the mobile device. With a web app you'd either send out emails or text messages which complicate matters because now you need to worry about a mail server or some other kind of infrastructure for sending out text messages. There are services like Amazon Simple Notification Service and Twilio but coordinating all those pieces can be a lot of work and adds budget overhead.

  • Thanks. Yeah, I've looked at it before. I've been educating myself for the past month daily on different aspects etc. Would you pls be more specific (maybe a simple example) in what you suggest : " the functionality of your app should be dictating how you develop your application instead "
    – 0Complex
    Mar 23, 2011 at 22:13

Third option - Hybrid app:

Content rendered using WebKit component (on Android, Symbian and iPhone), but shown in system specific application using native widgets and accessing APIs not available from JS.

  • 1
    Please, not another non-app ! I haven't seen any "Hybrid app" that provide a good User Experience.
    – David
    Mar 24, 2011 at 8:04
  • @David: you probably don't even realize how many "native" apps actually do just that.
    – vartec
    Mar 24, 2011 at 16:50
  • 1
    the problem is I "realize" : those apps suck (starting with the iPhone App Store application which would be much more usable if it was a "real" app)
    – David
    Mar 25, 2011 at 8:52

Another angle:

iPhone app: Simpler way to charge for the app or enhanced features. Apple takes 30% of the revenue but you may make more money overall. I'd caution against this as your only revenue stream though because only the most popular apps earn enough money from sales to recoup development costs.

Mobile web: Users usually won't pay and you have to figure it out yourself.


It's a combination of the two.

I suggest decoupling your business logic and putting it on the cloud (services). Your phone app will serve as a front-end. In this manner you can develop several apps for different mobile platforms utilizing your cloud services.

The pros of having it as a plain webapp: 1. Huge user base for the common web browsers 2. Maintenance cost is low, updates are done on the server.

The cons of having it as a plain webapp: 1. Right now, we don't know if the app will behave properly on some phone browsers

The pros of having it as a plain phone app: 1. Phones are gaining much popularity nowadays, we'll be expecting more users 2. It's a "new" way to use apps, somewhat more interesting for most users (subjective)

The cons of having it as a plain phone app: 1. Users need to update it when needed. 2. A separate app for each platform.


You do know that smart phones can access the web? If you make a web app that has a layout compatible with smart-phone screens, you could get your app into both places in one shot!

Really, is there a good reason that a web app accessed by a smart phone is not OK? The way you phrase you question, it sounds like you'll restrict yourself to one or the other, but I don't understand why that would be necessary.

  • I had 10$ on you being the first to answer FWFD. ;) Well I am not "limiting" myself by choice but basically by lack of factors as dev. budget and coding experience. I am no programmer but do understand some aspects of what I need. From my previous questions here, I kinda narrowed the aspect to either having it as a Phone App or Web App.
    – 0Complex
    Mar 23, 2011 at 21:57

From a money perspective, a web app is way easier to monetize. Monetizing mobile apps still is in its early stages, and you either have to rely on something like iAds or AdWhirl (which don't pay as much as web advertising), or strike a deal to do some sort of special sponsorship ,which requires more convincing as most companies are not used to doing this..

I would recommend starting with a web app, making that as popular as it can be. Then make a mobile app to increase mindshare, and branding, which in turns increases the popularity of the web app. The mobile app is a slave to the web app, as it's hard for a mobile app to be financially successful alone. Even mobile apps like Foursquare have not solved the question on how to make money.

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