Web Apps -v- Websites

In the pre App Store era, the word “applications” was applied to Websites that provided advanced user interactions and capabilities previously available only through installable software. Early examples of web applications included Webmail, Google Maps and Google Docs. Compared to the classic web, i.e. news sites and blogs, web apps provided a richer user experience, and access to advanced browser capabilities.

Today single-page web sites might still be referred to as web apps, but it’s more about the task focus, than the technology itself. From this perspective, as Mozilla’s Christian Heilmann explains, “The use case of an application is always to DO something with it”.

The task centricity of web apps is easier to understand if you think of smartphones or tablets: an app’s purpose is to achieve a specific task, like making a call, checking your email or finding a taxi nearby.

Some may argue that we can simply classify Web sites as being read-only and Web apps as being read-write. That certainly seems simple enough: Web sites are for consumption what Web apps are for creation. Does it sound right?

For developers, it is easier to draw the line between web sites and web apps if we think of the technical distinctions. Web apps have some defining attributes that bring them closer to their native counterparts.

  • They are self-contained
  • The user interface is richer and more interactive, often mimicking the device’s native UI
  • They use advanced device capabilities – such as the in-built camera, or GPS
  • They are more action-oriented and less information oriented
  • They do not rely on the browser’s address bar, reload or back button
  • You can use them off-line

If a Web app is used for a specific task, it shouldn’t matter whether it’s contained in the browser or installed via an app store as long as users consume it in a similar way they do a native app.

Excerpt from article written by: Ciprian Borodescu