Web development has been around for a long time. It has grown immensely in terms of technology, scalability, and user experience. At the same time, mobile app development has taken the world by storm due to the ease of access and usability. So, which domain should you pick as a budding software engineer? To make the right choice, you need to know how both differ in various aspects. In this post, I'll break down the differences between web and mobile app development in terms of various factors. I'll then sum up these differences and help you decide how to choose between them. Let's begin with a refresher on both web and mobile development.
Web development caters to designing, building, deploying, and maintaining a website or a web application. It may be restricted to only client-side front-end development, but it can also include working with servers, databases, and back-end web services.
Mobile App Development
Mobile app development refers to the process of creating, building, and publishing native mobile apps. Thus, everything you explicitly see and interact with on a mobile app is the responsibility of the mobile app developer. Mobile app development is strictly limited to client-side development. This means that it doesn't include any back-end or server-side development.
Now, let's take a look at the process of building a mobile app and a web app. Both web and mobile development need a platform to operate, like a browser or an operating system. Also, they both require knowledge of basic programming. Both domains heavily revolve around UI/UX to create visual interactions in general.
Building a Web App
Building a Mobile App
Web vs. Mobile App Development: What's the Difference?
Now that we understand what each domain is and how it works, let's look at their differences on various factors.
Mobile app development is definitely a more popular choice than web development. It appears a more promising field that's not saturated yet, unlike web development. It also appears exciting to developers due to the evolving ecosystem around it and the complexity of products being engineered for all kinds of markets. Clearly, when it comes to popularity, mobile app development is a winner.
Barrier to Entry
Web development has the least barrier to entry in software engineering. This is because it's easier to train and understand. Web development projects also don't require external platform-specific knowledge of complex tooling, which comes in handy for newbies. We already know mobile app development is comparatively difficult to grasp. For the same reasons, it's harder to train engineers in that domain as well. Considering the complexity of apps built for mobile is more than that of the web. Companies tend to prefer more experienced people for the former. Therefore, web development has a lower barrier to entry than mobile development.
Job Market and Salary
To date, there are about 1.9 billion websites on the internet. Average salary for web developers in the US is roughly $75,000. Despite having a saturated market, web developers are always in high demand because it's the most generic and simplest form of software engineering. On the other hand, there are only 2.87 million mobile apps in the world. That's a much smaller number, but it's also because mobile app development is much newer than web development. The average salary of a mobile app developer is roughly $93,000. Despite having a statistically smaller market, it's a better paid field than web development. Clearly, mobile development is more lucrative in terms of salary, but web development may have more demand in general.
Now, let's look into the nitty gritty of each domain from a process point of view and see how they differ.
Platform and Publishing
Web development uses browsers as the platform. To deploy your web application, you create a production bundle for your web application and deploy it on a domain. Most of these steps can be easily automated, or some hosting providers can assist in this via an intuitive interface. The best part is deployments generally experience zero to minimal downtime, so your users using the app won't be affected in any way. A lot of times mobile apps get rejected by the stores because they unknowingly violated a platform policy that developers didn't know about. These policies also change rapidly as newer versions of OS come into the picture. Also, depending on the type of updates you're shipping for your mobile app, users may be required to update the app without using it further, which can be a point of friction, unlike with web apps.
Testing and Debugging
Browsers make it insanely easy to debug web apps because they show you everything. From the network requests your app is making to inspecting the HTML it renders, you can see everything. Due to the vast ecosystem of testing libraries out there, it's also easier to write automated tests for your web app. Mobile apps need emulators and real device testing to make them foolproof. Sometimes emulators may exhibit different behaviors than real devices. You could also run into issues where the app behaves differently on different devices. All in all, testing and debugging can be comparatively painful for mobile apps. However, if you use something like Waldo, you could easily write and run automated tests for your mobile app in the browser.
We've seen that both web and mobile app development require different programming languages and frameworks. However, there are dual-purpose tooling options available where you can do both mobile and web development using the same technology. For this, we have options like React Native and Flutter. React Native is a cross-platform mobile app development framework that functions almost exactly like ReactJS, its web counterpart. Similarly, we can use Flutter both to build cross-platform native apps as well as web apps.
Which Is Better: Web Application or Mobile Application?
We've seen how each competes against the other on various factors. To decide which suits you best, ask yourself this: which factor matters the most to you? If you want to get your first job regardless of the domain, choose web. If you're fascinated by mobile apps and have a genuine interest in building them, go for mobile. The most optimal choice you can make is choose web, learn React, and transition to mobile development using React Native. From thereon, it'll be much easier for you to understand native mobile development, and you'll also possess a wider knowledge of both domains.