Native v. Web Mobile Apps: What’s the Difference?

One of our #cliotraining Tuesday Tips earlier this year was about adding our mobile site to the Home screen of your mobile device. While many have found it useful, we’ve noticed requests for a Clio iPhone/Android/BlackBerry app. The question raises an interesting terminology conundrum since “app” seems to be an all-encompassing word.

If you use Google’s nifty “define” feature for “app,” you get a number of definitions, from the familiar computer definition (short for application) to a baseball reference to medical-related definitions having to do with a protein in the brain. There are two other definitions, though, that usually get missed: Native and Web.

A Native app is what we most often associate with Apple’s i-devices, like the iPhone and iPad. It is an application purchased through an online store, like iTunes, that downloads to your device. Examples include TrialPad and Angry Birds. Native applications can also come pre-installed, like a text messaging application or calendar application. In many ways, Native applications are akin to software you install on your desktop or laptop, like Microsoft Word, FireFox or TweetDeck.

A Web app, on the other hand, is accessible through a browser. Smart phones, be it an iPhone, Motorola Droid or a BlackBerry, have browsers. To access a Web app, you open the mobile browser and type in the URL just as you do from the browser on your laptop. The Web app URL usually converts itself to: http://m.uRLhere.com, with the “m” signifying “mobile” so the site renders properly on your small smart phone screen. You can also type it directly, like http://m.goclio.com.

So what, then, is the big deal about a Native app v. a Web app? In a word: platforms.

Native apps only run on specific platforms, like Apple’s iOS. To run on another platform, say Android, requires building a new app. That’s why you often find an app on just one platform, which may eventually makes it way to others if the app, and platform, are popular. UberSocial (formerly UberTwitter), is one example. It was a BlackBerry-only Twitter application that is now also available on the iPhone. And it is important to point out that there are advantages to having a Native app, such as being able to take advantage of built-in features like the camera and GPS capabilities. An example of a useful Native app is Yelp as it takes advantage of features like GPS.

Most Web apps, however, can run on any mobile browser that uses Webkit, which is an open source browser engine. It is used by Apple in its Safari browser, and for many smart phone browsers, including Palm Pre and more recent BlackBerry devices. While Web apps do not have the ability to access built-in features like GPS, they do eliminate the need to use a device for which there is a Native app. In other words, you can choose the device that feels most comfortable to you rather than the device that has the Native app.

Clio’s mobile interface is a Web app, accessible from any Internet-connected device with a browser. It doesn’t matter, then, if you use an Apple device, an Android device or a BlackBerry. In other words, you can choose your device without having to worry if you’ll still be able to access all your case files via Clio’s mobile interface.

If you haven’t yet, give Clio’s mobile Web app a try: http://m.goclio.com.