The 4 different types of mobile apps. Know the difference.

Accessing health information on mobile devices is becoming the new norm but choosing the right type of app for your healthcare business can be a difficult decision. In the following article we will explore different types of apps, the differences between them and how to decide which app is best for you. There are four types of apps available: native, web, cloud and hybrid apps.

Native Apps

Native apps are the ones you download on to your phone or tablet via Google play or the App store. These apps are launched through your phones operating system. Native apps are made to suit a particular type of device. Each platform uses a different language and set of development tools, interactive elements and a defined SDK. (Software development kit)

Advantages of Native Apps:

  • they are usually the fastest, most reliable and most responsive
  • they can use things that the device has built in including the camera, microphone, compass, accelerometer and swipe gestures
  • publishers can use ‘push notifications’ to alert users when an update is available or it otherwise requires their attention
  • the app will be displayed on Google play or in the App Store, which is where people usually search for new apps


  • costs are high because they have to be rewritten for each type of device. A custom Native app, built from scratch, could easily cost between £20,000 and £40,000
  • you will need to build versions of your app for every device and operating system, and will have to manage and maintain all these separate versions
  • creation can be difficult as developers tend to specialise in one platform, so you might need different coders for each platform you want your app to be available on
  • each update for the app has to be downloaded promptly as the app is stored in, and works out of, your device
  • memory can be an issue as users have to have enough space on their device to both download and operate the app

If your budget allows, Native apps are ideal. They offer the best ‘user experience’ when you want an app built from scratch for multi-platform use. They are, however, expensive and require time consuming regular maintenance.

Cloud Apps

A Cloud app is one that functions in the Cloud and shares some of the characteristics of a Native app and a Web app. Put simply, a Cloud app is a software product running as a service, online, on at least two servers, designed with enhanced redundancy, scalability, and access control, usually intended for multiple users.


  • the processing data is stored in the device and so can be used without a net connection
  • they can be used equally well from the web or from an app installed in a device
  • all data is stored in the Cloud and so can be reached from anywhere
  • support can be offered for different user requirements such as a data backup, data compression, security and backup scheduling
  • they can be used to access a wider range of services than a Native app, such as on-demand computing cycle, storage and application development platforms

Common Cloud apps include Evernote, Sugar Sync, Salesforce and Dropbox.


  • use without a net connection is limited
  • can be harder for people to find the app because it won’t be available on Google play or in the App Store
  • usually run slower than a Native app
  • synchronization between device and web can sometimes be an issue

Web Apps

Web apps are exclusively web based and designed to work from a browser – they could be considered a kind of tiny website. Web apps are often designed to look and behave like Native apps. They are ideal when you want to make content or functionality available on a mobile device without the cost or maintenance issues of a Native app.

The browser will use the web server to operate the app, and because Web apps are exclusively web based there is little opportunity to customise the content, features and layout.


  • the app can be easily accessed from any device that has a connection to the internet with a web browser
  • lower cost; development and maintenance can range from £5,000 – £15,000
  • they can be created quickly and easily
  • cost and functionality can be very flexible
  • there is no dependence on having a certain type of device

Examples of web apps include Facebook, Amazon, EBay, Trainline and online banking.


  • they will not operate without a web connection
  • they usually have fewer features and functionality
  • can be slower and less intuitive to use
  • the user has to save the app as a bookmark if they want to return to it
  • can be harder for people to find the app because it won’t be available on Google play or in the App Store
  • usually run slower than a Native app

Hybrid Apps

Hybrid apps are also a cross between Native and Web apps, built using the same languages used to write Web apps, so they are easier to create and maintain than Cloud apps.


  • faster and easier to develop and maintain, and changing platforms is straightforward
  • easy to add functionality and have multiple versions of the app running together
  • relatively easy to make the app work across a variety of devices
  • a step-up from what you can expect from a browser-based Web app


  • use without a net connection is limited
  • usually run slower than a Native app as it depends on the browser speed
  • can be harder for people to find the app because it won’t be available on Google play or in the App Store
  • takes a lot of work to get the app running on each platform, so costs might be comparable to a Native app

Each app type has advantages and disadvantages, some of them far from obvious to the less technically able. The first step is to work out what your app has to do to fulfil its function, then decide the best way for people to find it and then use it. This last will be the most important – if it’s a system for, say, paramedics it can’t be an app that won’t work unless it’s connected to the internet. If it’s for use inside a hospital, that isn’t an issue. If it’s intended for patients to use at home, it must be simple to understand and foolproof to operate. In all cases, the most important things are what it does, for who, and where – from that will flow which kind of App is best and how it should be designed. As Modernist architect Louis Sullivan said – ‘form follows function’. Apps in healthcare are here to stay, and any healthcare organisation that is exploring this route needs to carefully consider their options.

Sam Beavan

Article by Sam

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