On a mobile device, there are two main ways that you can visit the web. You can either visit a website by typing in or searching for its URL in your preferred mobile web browser, or you can download the mobile application (if available).
So, what’s the difference? That depends on the site you’re visiting and how optimized it’s been made for mobile platforms, but let’s compare the mobile web versus apps just to see how they might stack up against each other.
Because your smartphone screen is a lot smaller and differently shaped than a laptop or desktop computer screen, most websites need to be completely rebuilt for the mobile web. You also use your finger instead of a mouse or trackpad to navigate through the site, so larger text, links and buttons usually need to be worked into the mobile version of the site as well.
Not all websites are optimized for the mobile web. Let’s face it, the mobile shift is still new to a lot of us and lots of websites haven’t made the move toward a mobile optimized version yet. You can see that a site doesn’t have a mobile version if it looks the same on a mobile device as it does on the traditional web, with extremely small text and sometimes broken links, images, ads and other features. In this case, you’ll usually need to zoom right in to read anything on a non-mobile optimized website.
Slow loading time. Websites who’ve recognized the importance of mobile optimization and have indeed launched a mobile web version along with apps are on the right track. But if you visit the site through the mobile web, you can probably expect things to load slower than it would through mobile apps you can get from the iTunes App Store or from Google Play. In this case, you’ll want to go with the app (if available) to speed up page loading.
An "app" is a mobile application you download and store on your device. The icon shortcut is usually placed on your homescreen or in some sort of app drawer so you can access it immediately whenever you want as opposed to typing in or searching for the web address via the mobile web.
Advertisements. A lot of free apps will sometimes place ads within their apps as a way to monetize their apps, which can be expensive to develop/host/update over time.
Paid apps. Although lots of mobile web apps come free, some of them can only be downloaded for a small fee.
Storage. Apps need to be downloaded and stored on your device. This can take up space and add up quickly if you download lots of apps and keep other media like photos or music on your device as well. You can always delete the app later to free up some space.
Availability. Smaller sites often won’t have apps available. You’ll have to search through your platform’s app marketplace like the iTunes App Store or Google Play to see if apps even exist.
The better choice is all up to you and how you use the web from your mobile device. If you visit a particular site – like the Huffington Post or Mashable – very rarely, you probably don’t need to download the app and have it take up extra storage space and add to the clutter on your homescreen or in your app drawers. Instead, you can just access it on the web.
But if you like to look at a specific website pretty regularly, then it’s probably worth downloading the app. It will usually offer more features than the mobile web version, faster browsing, and quick access with a tap of your finger.