The benefits of native versus Web apps

YouTube's new mobile site brings up an interesting debate about the benefits of native versus Web apps.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

My post yesterday about Google's launch of an overhauled YouTube mobile site (m.youtube.com) -- with features that rival the native YouTube app bundled with iOS -- generated an interesting discourse in the TalkBack on the respective benefits of native apps (i.e. from the App Store) versus Web apps.

While I still strongly believe that Google's gravitation toward Web apps is no coincidence, and that it's directly related to the smack that Apple's been talking lately, many of you accused me of wearing my tin foil hat and for starting conspiracy theories. As with any opinion, there will always be two sides. But the TalkBack got me to thinking more about the benefits of native versus Web apps.

Each has its benefits, here's what I came up with:

Native apps have:

  • Access to more APIs (like the accelerometer and gyroscope) than Web apps (which just got GPS access recently). Although that will change as Apple makes more mobile API's available.
  • Persistence - allows data to be saved and reoloaded when application launched
  • Multitaking - in iOS 4
  • Integration - with other native apps
  • Marketing - via the App Store
  • Hosting/reporting – via Apple's iTunes Connect portal

Web apps:

  • Multi-platform - develop once for every mobile browser
  • Instant iteration - no delays
  • No approval process - no limitations placed on content or subject matter
  • No third-party fees - the App Store commands 30% of revenue

One of the more salient points made in the TalkBack was that an app like Star Walk ($2.99, App Store) -- that makes use of the many sensors in the iPhone (i.e. GPS, accelerometer) -- simply isn't as good as a Web app, yet. While Apple is certain to slowly expose more and more APIs over time, native apps simply have more options today. An even better example might be one of my new favorite games Eliminate:GunRange ($0.99, App Store) which is now hyper-accurate thanks to its use of the gyroscope hardware in the i4.

Many people don't like Web apps regardless of how much devs try to make them look like native apps. Google Voice and YouTube do a respectable job, but they still have the iPhone status, URL and search bars at the top and the forward and back arrows, bookmark and page buttons at the bottom. They just look "webby" at the end of the day.

I definitely prefer native apps, which is why I continue to carry an iPhone, but both have their pros and cons.

So I ask you fair reader, which do you prefer? Native or Web apps? More importantly, why?

Editorial standards