The technologies changing the web app landscape

The web app world is changing. Functions that were previously only possible to complete using native apps can now increasingly be done through simple, quick web app operations – which are also becoming less expensive and easier to develop. In this blog post we take a closer look at the various options available for developing web app solutions.

Native app or web app?

If at this point you’re wondering what the difference is between a native app and a web app, one of the easiest ways to explain it is to think of a native app as something which is developed specifically for one particular platform or device – such as an iPhone or an Android tablet. The web app, on the other hand, can run in a web browser on any platform and is “universally available”. While the native app is installed locally and can make use of built-in device hardware, the web app only runs when you use it and does not require you to download any software.

Web app technologies

Native apps do play a key part in the technology landscape. They can provide performance, stability, design and display options that have been difficult or impossible to match by their web counterparts. However, with the arrival of new technology and development methods, web apps are becoming increasingly better at matching the design and performance power of native apps – and can in some cases provide a cost-effective alternative.

Let’s take a look at a few emerging technology options for developing better web app solutions:

  • Progressive web app development
    A Progressive Web App (PWA) is, simply put, a website that mimics some of the behaviour of a native app. For example, it allows the user to add the site to their desktop or start menu for easy access, where it looks like any other app icon. It can then be launched the same way a downloaded app can. It can even be set to run in ‘full-screen mode’, making the interface look more like an app and less like a browser window.
    The PWA file and its contents can be cached on the device, which means it loads quickly, it holds offline data, and can perform functions without having to be connected to the internet – which again adds to the app experience. Another major benefit of the PWA is that it also makes it possible to perform actions in the background and push notifications to the user.
  • Webassembly
    One common issue when comparing the typical web app to a native one, is the difference in speed and performance. The HTML and Javascript of a web app run ‘client-side’ which means that any operations or functions take place in the browser once the site’s code has loaded. A native app, on the other hand, runs on dedicated compiled code that plugs directly into the device. This makes the native app faster, smoother and more powerful.
    However, there is now an alternative code format that helps improve web app operations, called WebAssembly. This is a format based on binary code which is pre-compiled even before it is sent to your browser. It dramatically speeds up the functionality of the app, while also adding a huge amount of computing power that the browser would otherwise be too slow to achieve.
  • Houdini
    Many apps rely heavily on their visual interface. And while developing a native app will give you complete design freedom, a web app can be much harder to customise as it is still limited to what you can do with HTML and CSS. What we’re seeing now, however, is a surge in technology that adds another element of visual design to the rigid boundaries of the web browser.
    One such solution is Houdini, which is a set of controls that allows the developer to communicate with the actual rendering engine of the browser itself. This opens a new range of possibilities for designing web apps that are much less restricted in their look and feel compared to native apps. This is still very much a technology in progress, however, which is limited to certain browsers only. It may still be a while before we can see mainstream tools that give us the same free reigns in terms of design and layout that we can achieve when developing a native app, but it’s a very interesting area of development and one which we’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on during the coming months and years!

What to consider

Here at DCSL, we have an experienced team of specialists developing both mobile apps and web apps. Building these solutions takes more than just technical skill, as we also place huge emphasis on aligning functionality with customer needs and long-term commercial value. A clear understanding of the users’ needs must always sit at the centre of any development project.

To see a selection of creative web apps we’ve developed for our customers, check out this previous blog post.