A web application is a computer program (software) that runs on a web server and can be accessed through a browser. Commercial web apps store permanent information (products/services description, purchase history, etc.) utilising a database and are capable of displaying graphical reports, delivering news/product information, sending out personalised push notifications, online shopping, giving information, imparting education on specific topics, offering gaming and entertainment.
There’s a common misconception that a web application is the same as a website. Although some functionalities are similar, there’s a significant difference between the two. Some are listed below:
Web apps are more interactive, allow users a higher degree of manipulation, e.g. Google Maps
They are more action-oriented (call-to-action)
Web apps can be more easily integrated with 3rd party apps. Websites can be integrated too but they’re not created with the goal of integration unlike web apps.
User authentication is mandatory for web apps since they have a wider range of functionalities, this is not the case for websites, e.g. Gmail
Web apps store, retrieve data through a customised interface, e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook
They offer more opportunities for technological innovation, e.g. going serverless, using intelligent and intuitive chatbots for personalised services, using AR VR for highly immersive and enriching experiences.
Why should enterprises consider developing web applications over and above websites and native apps? Let’s find out below.
- Competitive edge
Enterprises are required to be seen as a reliable and stable brand and stay ahead of the competition. Companies need to create a salient channel between themselves and clients/customers. Traditional websites (although vital) don’t cut it anymore because customers don’t just search for information only, they expect responsiveness, interactive features (and even entertainment) that can solve their particular problem. BookMyShow, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube (with excellent mobile versions too) have timeless appeal because of one main reason – the user gets a unique interactive experience that is not available elsewhere. Besides, if your priority is less time-to-market, a web application is your best bet since it’s simple to develop.
- Personalised experience
Customers no longer entertain brands that don’t cater to their specific needs. Web based applications that offer personalised shopping lists, entertainment options, food order placements, fashion recommendations, news stories, etc. are seeing 50-60% more engagement among users. Web apps that incorporate latest AI and ML tools for insights, data gathering, predictive/augmented analytics, and intuitive UX UI to forecast and customise are seeing unprecedented traction and loyalty among customers. There’s a high rate of customer satisfaction with a bespoke web app that makes them feel like it’s built just for them.
- Easy scalability
App marketplace approvals or standard operating system protocols approval do not apply for web apps. They can be easily integrated with own or third party software, tools and platforms. A well-conceptualised web application designed with the intention of scalability should be able to perform well even with increased concurrent users and be able to load pages quickly. There are several methodologies that make web apps scalable, including but not limited to cloud storage, realistic load testing, proper ramp up tests, appropriate use of horizontal and vertical scaling, caching, load balancing software, and choosing the right framework and hardware architecture. Better scalability is the main characteristic that gives web apps the advantage over websites.
- Hassle-free maintenance and installations
Compared to websites/native apps, web apps are easier to maintain because updates don’t have to go through the app store. This is easier for the user since they don’t have to click anywhere manually for updates; upon opening the web app, they get the updated version. Maintenance typically involves standard activities like bug fixing, security updates, scaling, monitoring, hardware updates, etc. Maintenance is less expensive since a common code is used across different platforms. Since browsers are ubiquitous, opening web apps is possible without installation.
- Secure authentication
Since web apps can be prone to data theft, a higher measure of security is deployed by software developers. These include Web Application Firewall against harmful HTTP traffic intrusion, DNSSEC protection, along with web application security best practices such as Dynamic application security testing, static manual testing, 2-factor authentication, threat assessment based on severity of vulnerabilities, encryption methods like digital signature, asymmetric encryption and even the most popular Advanced Encryption Standard. Essentially, a web application is no less secure than a website.
- Cross-platform capabilities
The best feature of web apps is that at a lesser cost and time, they can be designed to function for a multiple platform user experience with the same optics and feel, whether it be a desktop, laptop, mobile or a tablet. This is made easier due to the availability of cross platform tools like Adobe and Xamarin. Enterprises understand how crucial it is to tap into the mobile usage trends for effective marketing, which is why web apps that can be lite but provide the same user experience on multiple types of mobile devices seamlessly like a native app, and don’t cost a fortune in development, are in demand.
- Low-code development
Enterprises that are not primarily equipped or interested in building hardcore software development teams and do not want a traditional hand coded website, can opt for web apps with low code development. Low code development tools (Appian, KissFlow, Mendix) help even non-technical talent to create a functional web app using drag and drop features and graphical interface. One single code can be used for omni channel app development. This is particularly useful for enterprises who want to capture or enter a specific (or even multiple) segment quickly by rolling out a plethora of web apps for different geographies and customer base.
Outsourcing web application development to a reputed web development company is also a great option.
Enterprises looking to venture into web applications should consider the following questions:
Who is the target audience?
What’s the intention of the web app?
Does the web app offer versatility and utility better than the competition?
What’s my budget?
Is it created professionally and efficiently?
Based on the answers derived, enterprises can figure out the ways, means and investment it needs to factor in to create a web application that brings success.