If you look at several reputable startups which emerged throughout the last decade, most of them were originally native mobile apps. They had no web components whatsoever in their apps until they got popular and expanded their technology to the web.
The best examples of this are Uber and Instagram. Web versions of their platforms did not exist when they first started out. But as they grew popular, their services were finally offered on the web too. The functionality even stayed mostly the same.
Several ANODA projects did the same thing. As we worked to expand our native apps to web apps, there were several challenges in trying to make them function similarly. That is why we’ve written this guide because we want to help you release a suitable web app which addresses these kinds of issues.
The Purpose of a Native App Expansion into a Web App
If you have a successful native app built already, then you should consider expanding to a web counterpart. Then you can reach an entirely new audience which only uses the web instead of the app. First, wait until your native Android and iOS mobile apps receive too many downloads. Then you can expand to a new group of prospective users on the web and maximize the potential there.
Aside from reaching a web audience, you’ll also give these users the ability to experience your app on a much wider screen. For instance, if a lot of your mobile users are leaving feedback which states that they want you to make an app for personal computers, then you’ll know it’s time to produce a web app.
Instagram was able to grow itself on the web for many reasons. Seven years ago, Instagram released a web app which was a standardized version of their native app because of the high demand for it. Instagram users could finally go on the web to see photos instead of having to rely on the mobile app. Two years ago, their web app was updated further to accommodate mobile users with slow network speeds that have to wait a while to download things.
Therefore, if you’re thinking about creating a web app based on your native iOS or Android app, then you’re certainly not the first one to think about this. Below is a list of some reputable apps which eventually became web apps too:
1Password – 1Password created a new subscription service and web app which lets users go to 1password.com to retrieve their password data.
Telegram – Telegram is a native app which lets users send secure messages. A web version was recently released which lets people use a web browser to access most of the same features found on the regular native app.
Uber – m.uber is a smaller web version of the native Uber app. The web app is meant for people who didn’t want to download app or couldn’t for whatever reason. Perhaps they don’t own the newest smartphones or have the greatest carrier plans to run the native app.
WhatsApp – The great thing about the web version of the WhatsApp is that it synchronizes with every mobile device that is logged into the same account. The web version of the app is used right from the web browser on the computer.
Web apps cannot just be copied from mobile apps and pasted onto a new platform. To create a web app, new designs and coding must be done. It is quite a challenge sometimes because you need to create a web version which almost matches the native app, despite the two being different platforms.
On top of that, you need to build a web app which communicates directly with the native app and quite possibly works in sync with it. Some of the backend architecture may need changes to accommodate this. When you’re done creating the app, make sure you test it thoroughly on different operating systems, browsers, and mobile devices. You’ll want a clear idea of what the user experience will be like.
Web App Design vs Native App Design
Mobile technology and web technology are more similar these days. However, there are still certain things about web app technology which is different than mobile app technology. These differences must be addressed when you’re designing the web version of the native mobile app.
Use space wisely
The biggest difference with a web app is all the available screen space that you’ll have to deal with. This gives you the freedom to create more features than what your mobile app has. You can incorporate bigger visual elements, a new navigational scheme, and many other visual elements into the web app. Just don’t stuff too much into all that space because you have the extra room to do so. You must still use the space wisely just like you would with the native app space. If you have call to action content, make sure it is clearly visible to the user.
Another big difference between web apps and iOS or Android mobile apps is that the former uses clicking, and the latter uses tapping to perform actions. When actions are performed on a mobile app, the user must make certain gestures or tapping motions with their finger. They can even zoom in by pinching their fingers together on the screen. Pages can be advanced by swiping and extra options can be opened by pressing and holding the screen.
It is difficult to recreate this kind of experience on a web browser because of the required clicking involved. All the hardware and browser technology limit the immediate reactions that you’d want to get on your web app. There is not much you can do to change that either.
Native apps can create many types of experiences for users, such as entertainment, communication, and navigation. Web apps are more geared toward completing tasks and serving as a utility for users. Their functionality is also quite complicated, and their sessions are generally longer. If the wrong font sizes or colors are used, it could cause people to experience eye strain if they look at the screen for a long time.
Stand out your brand
It is important to use the right fonts for your native apps. Google Android uses Roboto and Apple iOS uses San Francisco. For your web app, there are premade fonts you can use for it. Since you want your brand to stand out, it is better to use a unique or customized font which few other people are using. The web app must be optimized for the most common web browsers.
App User Transitioning Between Platforms
You need to figure out when your native app users will interact with the web app version and the other way around. For instance, Pocket Prep provides cross platforming actions which keep its web app and native app in sync with each other. People who want to take a short exam on their mobile phone can do that wherever they’re located. Then, they can go back home at some point later and use their computer to take a bigger exam. All the exam data from one app can be seen on the other app because of their synchronization.
To successfully transition users from one app to the next, it is best to sustain the visual language, presentation, organization, and features. Your brand colors, logo, message, and imagery must all be the same or at least similar on both apps. Otherwise, users won’t feel like they’re using an app from the same company.
Encourage your users
Think about ways to educate your current native app users and encourage them to try out your web app. Maybe you can create a promotion in the native iOS or Android app which mentions the web app. You could send a push notification, status message, or banner ad to their mobile devices through the native app.
Other ways to encourage people to use your web app are paid advertisements, email marketing, and social media marketing. Analyze your target user base to see if there are opportunities to transition them over. Contact your existing leads and partners which you obtained from your native app. Let them know a web app exists now too.
What type of user experience do you want to create on both platforms? What if a person takes their mobile device and tries to use the web app on it? Will you require the user to use the native app if they have a mobile device or will you give them a responsive experience to use either one? Maybe you can give them a test experience where they need to download the complete app to get the total experience.
For instance, My Fitness Pal lets you use the native app or web app to record food intake and exercise information about yourself. Although they’d prefer you use the native app, either app makes it easy to log your information and view it on either app.
As you can see, it is not easy to create a web app version of a native mobile app. There are several new designs and functions which must be addressed for the alternate version to come out looking right. It is important to think about the user experience and how each app will be interacted with by users.
This will make it easier to transition between apps. Of course, the backend architecture gets strained some more when you develop a web app and try to synchronize it with the native app. You’ll have to worry about so many compatibility and security issues. However, don’t let these challenges stand in your way.
A web app allows you to reach so many new users and help provide more features to your current users. This is the key to expanding the success of your business.