Web Applications Demystified

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What is a web application and how is it different to a web site?

A web application (or web app) is software that runs from a browser. It doesn’t just show information, it is interactive and performs a function (eg. respond to a poll, enter in data, run a report etc). Historically, websites were static pages that displayed information only.

These days the lines between web applications and web sites is blurring. You still have your traditional static information sites (this website), your web applications (Ebay, Facebook) but also websites that have one or many applications integrated into their site. Take a typical banking website, it displays products, policies, opening hours (content) and also net banking, loan calculators (web applications).

Web applications can run across the internet or through a secure private network or intranet.

Mobile applications vs web applications

Considering a mobile app? As of June 18th, 2014 there is currently 1,261,642 android apps on the market and an equal amount available in the Apples iTunes store. However just because everyone seems to be jumping on the app bandwagon it doesn’t mean your business should. Consider this;

  • Smart phones already have web browsers so users can access your web application without the need to search for your app, pay for it, download it etc.
  • Mobile applications in terms of usability and design usually have to resemble the platform (iOS, Android, Windows Phone) they run from. This means further work to ensure there isn’t a disjoined user experience between devices.
  • There are additional costs and development time required to produce mobile apps compared to web applications. They need to adhere to the guidelines dictated by the various app store providers, there are fees and charges to user their stores and there is ongoing testing and maintenance cycle to ensure your application remains up to date with the version of the platform they have set.
  • A well-developed web site/application that incorporates responsive design provides the user with a mobile friendly version of your website without the need for additional maintenance. With the amount of traffic generated from mobile devices today, you can’t afford to have a website that does not work optimally from these phones and tablets.
  • Mobile applications cannot be indexed by search engines. If business growth is to be generated from traffic to your website then this won’t be achieved by investing in a mobile application.

Why would I want a web application?

From a technical viewpoint a web application provides businesses with a greater level of control, usage and access to software than the ‘windows’ or packaged software of the past.

Web applications mean the software exists in one place resolving many of the traditional shortcomings of software management. These include:

  • compatibility issues between versions, drivers, devices and operating systems are reduced or eliminated;
  • software licensing can be more effectively managed ;
  • software no longer needs to be manually installed on each machine; and
  • Updates/upgrades are instantly available to all users from any device wherever they are located.

From the business viewpoint a web application offers considerable value as an investment:

  • It improves connectivity between the organisation and its users. It enables staff to access real time data from various locations or on the field ;
  • centralised data recording, processing and reporting; and
  • reduction in hardware IT infrastructure support costs (cloud hosting, software licenses and installations)

The final word

Web applications are not the solution to everything and they do have their limitations so it is critical to understand what your business is trying to achieve before it chooses the technology to produce it.

Further Reading: We found the following article particular useful in seeing trends between web and mobile application usage and we think you will to.