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Native vs. Web Apps (And Beyond)

July 06 2012

3896mobile web appsThe term "mobile app" may be broader than you think. There are actually a few variations on the theme of applications for mobile devices. While the differences between these types of apps are of pivotal importance to those that design them, they will also have an impact on you (the end user) as well. So let's unpack the nuances of the different types of mobile applications and discuss how they affect real estate agents.

1) Native Apps

Native apps are built separately for each unique platform (for example, the iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.). Some companies choose to develop a native app for only a single platform, while others will create apps for most platforms. Native apps were the first to hit the market and are what most people thinking of when they hear the term "mobile app."

GoPaperless Solutions is one of the companies that have chosen to develop a native app for the iPad. We had a chance to speak with Mehrdad Alaei of GoPaperless to get his take on making this decision. For him, one of the primary benefits of a native app is that it can better leverage the strengths of each platform.

"The iPad is an incredible tool in a real estate agent's arsenal, and we wanted to take advantage of the unique capabilities the iPad platform offers," Mr. Alaei explains. "Electronic signatures are a huge component of our app and, by virtue of its large touchscreen, the iPad allows us to create a very pleasant signing experience. By choosing to create a native app for the iPad, we weren't forced to consider the weaknesses of other platforms."

Mr. Alaei continues, "Real estate agents will also appreciate that a native app can work in an online or offline environment. Many people don't want to spend the money on 4G, and it's not unusual to find yourself in a location without WiFi. When this is the case, being able to use our app whether or not you have Internet access is going to come in very handy. However, anything you do when offline is synced to the cloud as soon as you're next connected to the Internet."

2) Web Apps

Web apps use your mobile device's browser to access a mobile website. The biggest benefit here is that a Web app can be used on any platform - although that's more important to the developers building the app than it will be to you. However, if you're an Android user like me, you're probably tired of hearing about apps that are only available on iPhone. Web apps mean that Android users have as many options as iPhone users. Drawback: most Web apps require a device to have Internet access in order to function (although this is not always the case).

3) Hybrid Apps

The line between native apps and Web apps has been considerably blurred recently, thanks, in large part, to HTML5 (an advanced programming language). Many of a new group of "hybrid apps" essentially package a Web app in a native shell, giving the app a look and feel similar to native apps. These are, in fact, Web apps with some native functionality built into them. The bulk of the code for hybrid apps is platform-neutral, with only portions coded separately for each platform.

Hybrid apps offer some of the benefits of both native and Web apps: platform-neutrality with the ability to maximize some platform-specific features. Some hybrid apps may work in an offline environment, as well.

Next Steps

So, when does it matter whether an app is native, Web, or hybrid? When you're hiring someone to build an app specifically for your business and when you're investing in an app to help you do business. This article should help you weigh the pros and cons of each type of app. If you'd like to learn more, you can speak to one of the experts in our product directory:

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