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App vs Website – Which to Develop First?

What came first, the mobile app or the website? It’s absolutely crucial to choose the right platform for your debut MVP, and be aware of why you chose it. So, the App vs Website battle is on!

For starters, mobile apps are sexy.

Surely it should be the thing you start with?

Well, the truth is that mobile apps are generally created after the website has been finished, but is this the best decision for your venture?

Based on Brainhub’s experience in building web, native, hybrid and cross-platform apps for marketplaces, e-commerce and websites, we decided to come up with 10 questions you should answer before deciding on which platform to build first.

*This guide will give you the answer to the question – What should I build first – App vs Website ?* 

10 Questions to answer before building any app or website

#1 Do you want to reach more users?

A website can help you reach more users in comparison to a mobile app.

To prove this, let’s analyze the Google search traffic for a company that provides web and mobile analytics based in the US.

Around 21% of their website traffic comes from mobile devices and the rest comes from desktop and tablets.

Traffic from Google Analytics for devicesDigging deeper, here we show the two most popular operating systems, where Android users make up 8% (40%*21%) of all visitors and iOS users make up 12% (57%*21%) of all visitors.

Traffic Google Analytics for mobile OS

So, if we decide to just use the iOS app – As a rough estimate, we would get about 12% of our current visitors (maybe even more if the app is only for iPhones, not iPads).

Whereas if we decide to go only with the Android app – We (again, very roughly) would only get 8% of our current visitors (keep in mind there are around 70 different devices using this OS, that you can check by clicking on Android in Google Analytics).

App vs Website: Website comes out on top here.

Note: This approach is not adaptable to each particular case.

#2 Does your user visit your app > 5 times per day? 

If you think that your user will be playing with your app a few times a day, then it makes more sense to start with an app. It is way more convenient, faster to access, and keeps users up to date with notifications.

But there is one common barrier that stops people using your app – it’s slow to launch, slow to log in, and slow to perform desired actions.

Things like games, notes, to-do lists, reminders, alarm clock, e-mail or social media – most of them are recommended to have as a mobile app. You’ll use them pretty often during the day and want your interaction with them to be lag-free.

I mean, you don’t want to wait while ‘genius-don’t-forget-ideas’ flood your mind, you want to get them noted down fast. You don’t want to wait 1 minute to play games during your 5-minute bus ride – you want to play them ASAP.

Imagine if you always had to access Facebook through your mobile browser first, then had to sign in….and then finally being able to read that underwhelming message from your friend. Wouldn’t it be better to get an instant notification as soon as you received the message?

Native Facebook App vs Web App

Speaking of which, notifications…

#3 Do you need to access phone native features? 

Camera, Gyroscope, Sensors will always work better with a native mobile app. So, if one of these are crucial for your app – You should consider building a native app NOT a web app.

Of course, you can access a smartphone camera using HTML5.

Nowadays you can even use Gyroscope to play games with HTML5 and geolocation API.

The same thing with processing touch events!

Also, thanks to technologies like NodeJS you are now able to get data in real-time (as it is for native mobile apps).

But how about Notifications?

Well, the only features that are unavailable to you are geo-targeted push notifications or in-app notifications while using a web app on iPhone (here’s a walk-around for android users).

App vs Website : Winner = App

Notification Mobile Native App
Image source

However, this will always be a different experience than using a dedicated native mobile app. Using a native app you get:

  • Better performance – The efficiency of a native mobile app’s processing is higher than a web app’s.

App vs Website : Winner = App

#4 Do you care about app speed?

Mobile apps are faster than web apps.

The reason for this is that mobile apps store user’s data settings locally on the phone – Web apps on the other hand download the data from servers.

In the case of performance; the user’s experience will be the best when using native mobile apps.

Read more about why web apps are slower than native mobile apps. 

And again the App vs Website debate shows App as a clear favourite.

#5 Is your product complex? (We’ve got data/reports to show!)

Compare these two Google Analytics experiences (see an image below). First one is when you use a mobile web app to view all those complicated reports. Second is when you have an native iPhone app with an optimized user interface to display all the data.

Without a native mobile app, it would be such a pain to use on your mobile device. Scrolling, editing, reviewing reports with a web app – it’s an absolute nightmare to use a complex page like this on your phone.

Properly designed apps solve this problem:

Native Google Analytics App vs Web Google Analytics App
So, if you are thinking about using your phone for complex reporting, calculations, numbers, then you should know that it will be almost impossible to use these tools without a dedicated app.

This time, the App vs Website winner is the mobile app.

#6 Do you think that your user will often be using your product offline? 

Whether you’re in gyms, trains, basements, airplanes, forests, caves;  limited access to the internet is always a problem. Because these “offline” places exist, it brings up opportunities to build complementary, location-dependent apps. Therefore, in this App vs Website battle – App beats web hands down.

When your solution caters mostly for users who are offline-aficionados – then it’s much better to develop an app where the user can access the desired data whenever it’s needed.

Examples of this:

Google Maps – Nowadays enabling users to download a map offline to use it with navigation….offline!

Dictionaries – Each time you visit a different country you can translate something without an internet connection.

Tripadvisor – Enables you to download a city guide when you are traveling abroad, meaning you don’t need to google: the most visited places, best restaurants nearby, or even a map.

#7 Do you have more than 10k $ in your budget? 

If not, it wouldn’t make sense to start developing a mobile app.


  • UI/UX of an app (it should be adjusted to each platform – Android and iOS app will always be a bit different)
  • Development could cost you around 10-100k $ per operating system (Android, iOS etc.)
  • The Backend should be built with consideration to the Web App.


Based on research done by the median cost of an App is between $38k up to $171k (meaning in the US the cost will set you back $100-$150 every hour!)

So, if you have 30% users on iOS, 60% on Android and 10% on Windows Phone, you should probably consider developing your app for 2 platforms (the ideal case would be 3 of them).

Which means in the near feature:

  • 3x Bugs fixing per each app
  • 3x Different teams/developers working on it
  • 1 New Feature = 3x The same work done for each platform

It sure is considerable time, resources and money you’ll be consuming.

Please don’t develop an app with only $10k 🙂

App vs Website = Website get’s one back.

Cheap vs Expensive Mobile App
Image source

#8 Does your product involve navigation/location-based elements? (GPS)

For example: if you plan to build an app for runners to track their route or a taxi app that orders transport to a specific place – The best possible experience you can achieve is with a mobile native app.

In this case, a GPS feature is crucial for your business.

So, ding! ding! ding! App vs Website > App takes this round

But saying that; it is possible to do the task with a web app — but it won’t be as fast and easily accessible as a simple mobile app.

Lyft (which is similar to Uber), is a perfect example of a startup phone-app which facilitates peer-to-peer ridesharing.

It works by connecting passengers in need of a ‘lift’ with drivers who are happy to drop them to their destination 🙂

Lyft App Location Based Ride Sharing
Image source

#9 Do you think you’ll be improving/updating your app very often? 

If yes, you should definitely go with a website first. Later on you can invest in hybrid/cross platform apps instead of investing in native apps.

Most of the banks, news, and media apps are hybrid because they are web-based. This means that your users rarely have to update the whole application, instead you just update the website content.

The benefits for this are clear:

  • Only one platform is required to build in a new feature (imagine having to update Android, iOS, and Windows Phone apps all separately…grim).
  • No waiting time to see the update, so you don’t have to deploy the app to the app-store (which usually takes 1-5 days).
  • Solves updating/correcting issues – You get an immediate result after uploading on the server.

The average review time for an iOS app is 4 days based on 216 user reviews over the last 2 weeks. The problem is Apple can reject you if they think your app has:

  • User Interface that is substandard
  • Incomplete information
  • Ads
  • Bugs
  • Broken links

Read more here: the most common reasons why iPhone apps are being rejected

Luckily, for Android users, it is way faster and easier to do. The waiting time is around 0.5hrs up to 5 hours 

App vs Website = Dead Heat.

#10 Does your competitor have an app? 

This might be the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of your business.

Focus on mobile systems only. In the mean time, everyone else will be focusing on web platforms or delivering an average solution for each platform available.

Make it way more appealing and easier to use for the guy with the mobile phone in his hand.

And if somebody builds a to-do list app for desktop, tablet and smartphone – You can just focus on delivering the best possible experience for apple devices like Clear.


Display people’s and company’s insight along with meeting schedule (only on iPhone) – Accompany.


Shoot amazing time lapse videos with Hyperlapse by Instagram (only on iPhone).

Hyperlapse by Instagram Demo
Image source

So which should you choose first? Apps or Websites?

Many companies and entrepreneurs want to develop a mobile app first, which may be a huge mistake. I know, it’s a much more sleek and sexy new way to connect with users, but keep in mind those 10 questions above before starting to develop a mobile app.

There are a plenty of reasons for both platforms why you should build apps or websites first, so next time do it consciously. Even using modern technologies like node.js can give you a really fast single page application which is accessible on a mobile phone and this should be perfectly fine for your product.

From the title App vs Websites it’s hard to pick a clear winner. Just make sure before setting off on your epic path to develop a mobile app or website; make sure you weigh up all the pros and cons first.

Matt Warcholinski

Matt Warcholinski is the COO of Brainhub (a software house building awesome node.js web and mobile apps) who loves to build startups and play guitar.

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