Responsive Websites vs Native Apps



A strong mobile strategy is essential for your business. But what presence will you build: a responsive website or a native app? It’s a hot debate, especially when resources are limited or you have existing web properties to consider.

It’s not a simple question with a one-size-fits-all answer. Since every company and business plan is unique, the mobile presence you need will depend on many factors. At Sourcebits, we’ve built a wide range of both responsive websites/web apps and native apps for iOS, Android and Windows.

To help you evaluate the mobile format that’s best for your needs, we’ve highlighted the pros and cons of responsive websites vs. native mobile apps. Consider these factors as you determine which is best for your business. And keep in mind — some companies have BOTH a responsive website and a native app, depending on their needs and resources.

Responsive Websites/Web Apps


  • Lower development cost (usually) compared to native app
  • Single URL that works for web and mobile
  • Simpler, less expensive marketing because it’s a single brand property
  • Greater speed and flexibility of deploying updates or bug fixes
  • Faster and wider audience reach since one browser fits all
  • Easier and cheaper to find teams with web development skills
  • Can be packaged like a native app through PhoneGap


  • Doesn’t work properly on some devices and old browsers
  • Doesn’t incorporate all the smartphone features like the accelerometer or GPS, or phone dialing, that a native mobile app can leverage (an update based on comment feedback: APIs and code libraries are evolving that could solve these issues for web apps)
  • Works only when mobile internet/wi-fi is available vs. native apps that can run locally(an update based on feedback: HTML has local caching that allows a web app to work offline, with limited functionality. A web app by its nature is still more reliant on the Internet than a native app.)

If you’re going to build a website from scratch, our web engineers recommend you focus on a responsive design and build the mobile version first, as mobile browsing is on the rise and this is the smallest screen. You can then expand to larger screens — tablets and desktops.Responsive design should eliminate the fluff of the desktop experience so users can quickly access the content they want, otherwise you will lose them.

For more about responsive web design, download our free whitepaper here.

A side note about web/hybrid apps (which I’ll explore more in a future post): At Sourcebits, we’ve developed an easy framework for creating responsive web apps that can look like native apps. ChocolateChip UI offers built-in CSS, HTML, and JavaScript support, and includes phone gap so you can package your web app with native coding and submit it to the app stores.

Native Apps for iOS, Android and/or Windows


  • Far more popular with consumers
  • Better UX than responsive web apps
  • Incorporates all smartphone features like a camera or GPS
  • Benefits from inclusion in app stores, for organic and promoted discovery
  • Native apps can operate without an Internet connection
  • It stays on the mobile device once installed (unless it’s uninstalled)


  • Built only for a particular operating system
  • Time-consuming and higher development costs
  • Needs app store review and approval with every update
  • Needs additional app marketing strategy

Native apps are far more popular among users – and amongst our clients. Despite being more expensive and time consuming to develop, the benefits often outweigh the cons.

Roughly 3 out of 4 (78%) of our clients have decided to build native applications vs. web apps. iOS tends to win out over Android, although many companies build apps for both operating systems. At Sourcebits, we have teams dedicated to each platform – and they have strong opinions about the pros and cons of Android and iOS. In an upcoming blog series we’ll share the heated debate that’s broken out between the teams, along with our tips and tricks for both platforms.

Looking at the chart above (source here), you can see the majority of users spend their time in native apps.

But that doesn’t automatically mean native is right for you. Carefully and holistically consider the combined factors of your targeted user experience, budget, mobile marketing plan, and overall business development. You want to get the best ROI for your money, time, and talent.

  • I’ve also created a SlideShare that looks at 8 factors to consider when developing a mobile presence. It compares web vs. native apps across cost, Internet requirements, marketing, deployment speed, audience size, smartphone features, platform support and outside oversight. Check it out.

Posted originally on April 2, 2014 by Elliotte Bowerman is VP of Marketing for Sourcebits, a global leader in mobile app design and development. Sourcebits has created more than 500 products, including 30+ chart-topping apps. Clients include many top enterprises (SAP, Intel, Coca-Cola, P&G) and startups (Skyfire, Touch of Modern, Posterous, Twitpic). Subscribe to the Sourcebits newsletter for mobile tips and tricks.

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