smartphone – Development Effort: Web vs. App – Education Career Blog

what does the relation between a Web frontend and a smartphone App with identical feature sets look like regarding the development effort? Are there any specific differences regarding the development effort between Apps of different smartphone platforms (iOS, symbian OS, Android, etc.) ignoring training time? A general estimation would completely satisfy me. 😉

Thanks in advance,


I hesitate to call this an estimate, or even an informed guess, but perhaps by putting down some ideas I might help your thinking.

Ignoring any particular platform specifics I see the fundamental difference of Web v Native is that in the Web case you have some extra work to do:

a). You have presentation separated from the backend, with probably HTTP in between. So there are services to write and issues concerned with notifications and/or polling to deal with.
b). You’re likely using a browser to do the presentation so you will be using some JavaScript kind of library, and these are still hard to drive.

So, if you are targeting a single device my guess is that writing native code is likely to be 50% quicker than web-based code – assuming that you really are targetting identical function.

What seems to happend is that we compromise Web Apps, reducing functionality somewhat and hence the overhead is reduced.

Also there’s another factor, the UI portions of the Web App are in principle portable, hence in fact the Web App development may be a reasonable investment even if it does take more effort.

I suspect that portability may well end up being a dominant consideration.


specific differences? There are plenty, but each with their own tradeoff:

  • UI: Web applications have CSS, (HTML, XHTML, HTML5) specifications that is supported by major browsers (although have have their issues). For Smartphone apps, each UI has to be designed and implemented according to the language the apps can be built on. You can effectively create apps like Winamp (having skins). For web applications, this is relatively a quick effort compared to writing UI’s for each different smartphone OS models out there.
  • Language of use/Portability: In Web applications, an application sits in a server, so every request is sent to the server and response is returned from it. This allows that 1) Web applications can be written in any language of choice, as the end user never sees the server nor needs to configure it, 2) It allows the developer to write in a language that he/she is comfortable in. In smartphone apps, for the developer to run his apps to all the smartphone OS’es, he/she has to learn the programming language for the OS, and learn to port their code to work there (if porting is possible). That never exists in Web applications.
  • Hardware limitations: For smartapps, the developer must be aware of the cellphone capabilities and limitations. Facebook (e.g.) can essentially grow their memory, and add new servers and cluster their environment as the demand grows. You can’t do that with smartphone apps. You will have to limit your implementation to run in a capability that your desired smartphone can accommodate.

There are more (feel free to add) but all these are part of the development effort that a software developer has to look at if they want to go a a field of choice.

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