Web App vs Mobile App: What's the Difference?

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By DeVry University

February 5, 2021
5 min read

Web and mobile apps are branches of software development that have a range of exciting career opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, software development job growth in the United States is expected to grow 22% by 2029 - significantly higher than other industry averages, meaning that now can be a great time to pursue a career in web and mobile app development.

With smartphone penetration in the U.S. currently at 80%, it's no surprise that more and more adults are beginning or shifting their careers toward app development because of a shift in mobile app usage - but, what are the distinctions between web apps vs mobile apps?

Web App vs Mobile App

Web apps and mobile apps are similar types of applications in that they are both intended to be viewed on mobile devices like smartphones, tablets or smartwatches. However, they differ in the way they’re designed and the platforms they are intended for. While some apps are developed as either a web or mobile app, others like Spotify or Slack offer both mobile and web app versions designed to suit different user needs.

What is a Web App?

Web apps are designed to be used on web browsers and are engineered to adjust to any screen size. This means that if you open a web app on a Safari browser on your iPhone, it will automatically take into account the constraints of the mobile screen size. These applications can typically be accessed from any device in any location as long as you have an active internet connection. Some examples of web apps are Gmail or Starbucks.

What is a Mobile App?

A mobile app is designed for use on a specific mobile platform, such as iOS on iPhones or Android on Samsung phones. Occasionally these apps are preloaded on your device, but they can also be downloaded from an application marketplace like the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Mobile apps can offer services like fitness tracking, mobile banking, interactive games, productivity support and much more. Some examples of popular mobile apps are Instagram or The Weather Network.

What is Web Application Development?

Developing a web application requires a 'stack' of tools to bring the app to the end-user. Typically, the 'back-end' or server-side of development includes:

  • Programming languages like Python, Java, or PHP
  • Database like PostgreSQL or MySQL
  • Server - the most common being Apache

The server side is not visible to the end-user (also known as the client). This is what establishes the logic of the application and helps the programming run.

The "frontend" or client-side development is what the end-user or client will see. This development typically includes:

  • HTML
  • CSS, or
  • JavaScript

A frontend web app developer likely includes other tools in their tech stack. Some popular examples include a text editor, a debugging tool or data visualization tools. These tools allow a developer to flex their creativity and create efficient and effective processes to reduce redundancy.

What is Mobile App Development?

Mobile app development is the process of designing an application for use on a mobile device like a watch, smartphone or tablet. In this competitive field, mobile app developers have to consider hardware requirements, screen sizes and most importantly, the user experience (UI).

On the frontend side, mobile app development includes:

  • UI (user interface) design - Mobile apps are always designed with the user in mind. Considerations like text size, screen size, hardware constraints, mobility and utility are at the forefront of UI design. The more functional the app design, the greater success the mobile app will have with its users.
  • SDKs (software developer kits)- These kits are usually customized for the type of hardware you're designing for. These can include debuggers, a compiler and software development framework.

How to Become a Mobile App Developer

Choosing a career in mobile app development is an exciting and creative path with the potential to deliver valuable services for people at scale. But the route to becoming a successful mobile app developer is by no means set in stone. The beauty of learning software development is in the variety of ways you can build these skills. And with flexible educational formats, you can choose the path that best suits your learning needs.

A strong foundation can also help set you off on the right foot. Many mobile app developers begin with a background in computer programming or computer science. Following that, it's often a good idea to become more specialized. Degree programs in web and mobile app development are a great way to build on your fundamentals and learn more targeted skills.

Once you have this skill set, some say there's no better practice than building your own mobile applications. This will serve as a good trial and error practice and can also become a part of your portfolio when you're ready to start applying for jobs.

How to Become a Web Developer

A good first step in your path to becoming a web developer is to start with computer programming. After you learn that, you can move on to more targeted software design specializations. During your education, you should plan to learn the basics of CSS, JavaScript and HTML, and build on those skills with the fundamentals of UX and UI to give you a holistic approach to software development. Similar to mobile app development training, the exact path you choose is up to you.

Ready to Get Started in App Development?

Earning your degree or certificate is a practical way to gain hands-on skills in web and mobile app development that you can put to use immediately. Contact us today to start designing a path towards your future.

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