Should I develop an app, web app, website or bot?

The correct front-end user interface for your idea depends on what problem you are trying to solve, how engaged your customers are likely to be (or need to be), your product’s stickiness, specific features you require, budget, timelines and where you are in your investment cycle.

Should I Develop an App, Web App, Website or Bot?

There are many different languages, platforms and approaches to building apps. This article focuses on selecting the right “frontend” - this is the bit your end users interact with. The right solution for your app depends upon many factors including: 

  • What is your solution trying to deliver? Does it need the things only apps can use (such as location, push notifications, NFC or AR Kits)?
  • Will your users engage deeply and expend effort to access the features mentioned above? Nearly every entrepreneur thinks the answer to this is “yes”. But if you’re selling coffee cups it’s unrealistic to expect potential customers to go and download your app. And how will they hear about you in the first place because they’ll start on Google, which is primarily a website search engine?
  • Can what you’re trying to offer customers be offered already through another existing channel? People are busy and have the attention span of a fruit fly. We are also creatures of habit and it’s difficult to change our behaviour. So sometimes it’s better not to try. So if you’re collecting and sharing data, could it be done via a WhatsApp bot (which can provide structured data, location, photos)?
  • Do you want to quickly test an MVP or you’re building the final product? A website might deliver the former, but only an app the latter. 
  • How important is performance and user experience? 

If you start down the development path on the wrong front end eventually you’ll find yourself at a dead end. And it’s a painful and expensive trip back to the beginning. 

We are front end-agnostic. That means we don't force our clients to select only the approaches that we prefer because we know them all and, in our experience of having developed more than 100 apps, websites and bots over ten years, we have developed apps in most of them. We spend a lot of time consulting with our clients to understand not just their initial MVP requirements but also their development roadmap and strategy to recommend the right front end for them.

Let’s understand the differences between different types of Front End...

“Proper” Apps

These are the apps we know and, generally (!), love. WhatsApp, Facebook, Uber and Banking Apps. They are downloaded from Google Play or the Apple AppStore and can include app features such as push notifications, access to camera and gallery, stored payment card details, location services and many more. They perform quickly and can even work without a connection because some or all of the app sits on the actual phone rather than online. They are our bread and butter because of these lovely features but they can be more expensive, they require approval by the app stores (who also sometimes force you to use their payment systems).

Web Apps

What is a web app?

For a long time, we weren’t really sure! And we don't think anyone else was either. For a long time it has been a vague term for the grey area between a "proper" app that's downloaded from the app stores and where a large amount of code and content sits on the phone itself and a mobile-friendly or "responsive" website (where the content is online). Part of the confusion comes from some developers calling a responsive website a web app so they could charge more for it. But a web app is what we used to call a…

Progressive Web App or PWA.

A PWA or Progressive Web App is a relatively new class of application that allows users to do nearly everything a “proper” app (such as work offline, use GPS, receive push notifications) can do but they can be downloaded outside the app stores (from a shared link) and run in a browser. One advantage of not being on the app stores is you don’t need to stick to their rules, wait for their approval or use their payment systems (and pay their commission).

What are the problems with them?

The old problems of features not being available on certain operating systems or versions have largely fallen away, so the reasons not to build a PWA have reduced. The biggest problems are: performance/ data usage – PWAs can work offline but are primarily intended to run in the browser, i.e. online; credibility and trust which comes with being listed on the app stores (but your web app can also be listed on the stores), managing different payment systems if you also have to use the app store’s own systems.

So when are web apps the right option?

People today suffer from "app apathy". Your app needs to be very compelling to persuade them to read marketing blurb, go to their App Store, download, install and register on your app. If you just want to enhance their experience (for example to share photos from a gallery, get their GPS for deliveries, receive push notifications) then a web app is a quick, simple way to provide this. If your budget is very limited and you want to test the concept before investing too much, web apps also have a place.

Responsive Websites

We all know what a website is. A responsive website is just a website that’s designed to work across all devices, especially a mobile phone. It should load quickly and look great but the user must be online for it to work and it can’t do things like use GPS or receive push notifications.

Responsive websites are a good option if: your budget is limited; you don’t need the additional features an app can offer; it’s unlikely your customers will return more than once; discovery via SEO is a priority; or your idea can be built using a web platform such as Shopify for eCommerce.


We are big fans of bots, especially WhatsApp bots.

No-Code Platforms

What are "no-code" platforms?

For many common types of apps, companies have created platform solutions that allow users to quickly and cheaply launch their own branded versions of the core app functionality.

What sorts of apps can I build on platforms?

Initially the platforms specialised in making it easy for companies to launch their own marketing apps with modules for common content for these apps such as: about; contact; location; examples of work as more advanced features such as push notifications. Nowadays there are no-code platforms across a wide range of app types including data collection, eCommerce, panic buttons and even Uber-type apps.

What are the advantages of them?

Because someone has already built most of the functionality based on their experience and customer feedback, you are often able to quickly launch a branded, sophisticated app with relatively low initial development costs. They can therefore help to prove an MVP and reduce your risk.

What are the problems with them?

Caution! There are dragons here! There are many potential risks for using these platforms such as: you don't own the code, so if you want (now or in the future) a feature or design that the platform doesn't offer, then you're stuck; typically these platforms offer a low initial cost and then a "service as a software" monthly fee in US$ per user or based on usage so costs can rise very quickly with app popularity; Apple in particular have clamped down on launching apps based on platforms and they will often reject them leaving you in the lurch at the last minute; sometimes the platforms are actually just design templates where the functionality/ backend still has to be built and we have often found the code to be poorly written and buggy. 

When are the right option?

If your app requirements (now and future) fit perfectly with what the platform offers then they can be a very cost effective and quick way to get to market and prove the concept. But do your research (or ask us for advice) first of all.

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