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Web Apps versus Native Apps for iPhones and iPads

Using the latest in HTML5 and CSS 3, you can create highly interactive websites that work well on the iPhone and iPad.

The “gold rush” environment of the iTunes App Store includes a growing list of magazines, TV networks, and other businesses scrambling to launch apps for the iPad and iPhone.

But, despite commercials in which users showcase apps by scratching on deejay turntables or slaying dragons or checking traffic reports, the most popular application on the iPhone and iPad doesn’t even need to be downloaded from the App Store ― it’s already on the device when you take it out the box.

The Safari web browser beats all other apps in the touchscreen popularity contest — another reason why designing websites for these devices is worthwhile. People surf the web a lot more on the iPhone and iPad than on any other mobile device.

Apple’s compelling marketing campaigns suggest that no matter what you want to do — take your blood pressure, plan your next trek to Kilimanjaro, or buy a new car — “There’s an app for that.” An app is a small computer program. On the mobile platform, there are web apps, which run in a web browser, and there are native apps, which run on the operating system on an iPhone or iPad.

Native apps must be downloaded from the iTunes App Store, which means that if you create an app, you as the developer have to set up an account with Apple and submit each app to Apple for review before it can be made available to consumers in the App Store.

The review process is increasingly controversial because Apple rejects apps it doesn’t approve of, and even if your app is approved, the review process can delay the launch of your app by days or weeks.

Although the mobile web is great, nothing compares with a native app when you want to create the most rich, interactive features possible. If you want a race car game that lets you "drive" the car by tilting your iPhone or iPad back and forth, you’ll need to create an app for that. Accessing the accelerometer, location detection, and other advanced features often requires a native app.

The bottom line is not everyone needs an app, but every website on the Internet should be mobile friendly and designed to look good to the growing audience of web surfers on the iPhone and iPad. Some companies, such as Amazon and American Airlines, have created both. This figure shows the Amazon native app on the left and the highly interactive website on the right.

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If you choose an app over a mobile website, remember you need to create a different version of your app for every type of device ― one for the iPhone, another for the iPad, and then additional versions if you want your app to work on the Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, or another mobile operating system.

Here are just a few reasons that you might prefer creating a website instead of an app:

  • You can update websites faster and more efficiently. Websites aren't subject to the unpredictable (and sometimes long) iTunes review process.

  • You can develop a more direct connection with your audience. Distributing an app through the iTunes App Store means you can’t track your customers’ actions directly or even keep their contact information for future sales.

  • One well-designed mobile website can work well on all popular mobile devices, from the iPad to an Android phone. (You don’t have to be a math genius to figure out that creating one website is more cost effective than having to code a series of apps.)

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