Business Software Solutions: Web Apps

Mini-Series: Part 3 of 5

web apps
We continue our business software solution mini-series with probably the most cryptic service we offer: web apps. What the heck is a web app? Isn’t it just the trendy new name for websites? What’s the difference between web apps and mobile apps? I’ll answer these questions and more in this information-packed article. Grab that thinking cap and strap in ‘cause we’re going to explore all there is to know about web apps and their benefits for businesses of all sizes.

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What is a Web Application?

Let’s start with the most obvious question. What is a web application? Since we’ll be discussing both web and mobile applications throughout this post let’s start with a more generic question: what is an application? Or more specifically, what is a software application? A software application is a collection of software that accomplishes a specific task. The task itself can be as simple as adding two numbers, or as complicated as managing all of the marketing leads that your business establishes daily. Generally, these programs are built with end-users in mind. If you want to read more about applications and understand the difference between software and an application, I think this is a great, short read with a nice table: https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/difference-between-software-and-application/.

So now that we understand what an application is, you’re probably starting to understand what a web app is and does, as well as the difference between a web and mobile app. If you’re still a little confused, don’t worry, we’ve still got a lot to cover!

A web application is a collection of software, built generally for end-users to accomplish a specific task AND runs in a web browser environment. In simpler terms, web apps are specific applications that run on your browser. Now, because the modern smartphones have built-in web browsers, the confusion between a web and mobile app is completely understandable. If you’re still a little shaky on the difference, it’s quite simply that mobile apps are a reserved term to mean applications that run natively on the mobile device. The more you dig through a topic such as this, the more you’ll come across the term native. This just means that something is built with, or boils down to, the native code for that particular device. Or even simpler, the programming language the device was built with.

So it’s Basically a Website?

Time to put this myth to bed. The answer is NO. A lot of people like to get bogged down by the semantics of this so let’s get some definitions in order. According to computertechreviews.com, a website is a “set of web pages developed in HTML code, related to an Internet domain which can be viewed on the World Wide Web”. Breaking this down even further, you can think of a website as the combination of a domain name and a web page, or group of web pages. This intrinsically includes the hosting of the domain name. Websites generally include CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, and a high-level scripting language such as Javascript or PHP. On top of the additional styles (CSS) and functionality (JS or PHP), websites can also be connected to a database. The database can be set up to store anything from page content to user credentials.

A web app, on the other hand, is much more versatile than a website. While both are accessed through a browser, web apps tend to revolve much more around user interaction, than just content. Web apps can act as websites, but websites are not web apps. Let’s break this down a little further. Many of your modern day “websites” are actually web apps! Getting even more granular, many are what we call SPAs, or Single Page Applications. In the year this article was written, there are a plethora of pros for SPAs, with only a few drawbacks. At their core, web apps still boil down to HTML, CSS and the “functional” language (usually Javascript or PHP). This is because browsers have a legacy of reading HTML and CSS, so that is what they’re naturally optimized for.

Endless Business Possibilities

Now that we understand the difference between a website and a web application, let’s go over their benefits for you and your business. As the section header suggests, the possibilities are close to limitless. Pretty much any problem that your business has can be solved by developing the right web app. There’s a reason why “there’s an app for that” has become a household expression. If you look at any problem with a scientific mindset, the problem can almost always be solved given enough data and experimentation. Oftentimes, deriving the solution takes a creative approach, but that’s part of the fun! I mention this because that’s what apps are designed to do: solve specific, sometimes obscure, problems to improve productivity, efficiency or, in the case of a business, profitability. Let’s take leads as an example. Many businesses out there need leads in order to sustain and grow, but tracking leads can be difficult. That’s why there exists quite the number of SaaS products that help manage leads, and why we build custom web apps tailored for your needs. Basically web apps exist to make running your business easier!

Does my Business Need a Web App?

Good question! We’ve been circling around this topic in the last couple sections but really the only question you should be asking yourself is if you’d like there to be additional user interaction outside of the standard online shopping experience. While you can build a web app with a custom Stripe implementation, their API is comprehensive enough to support static websites and their integration into WordPress builds is extremely simple. The user interaction you should consider is usually some sort of login functionality where the user can access some sort of portal or dashboard that handles the specific services you offer or provides additional value to the user.

If the answer is no, another reason companies often switch their web build to an app is for the performance boost I mentioned. With the new MVVM (Model-View-ViewModel) architecture that most of the SPAs utilize, includes clever ways to speed up rendering of the page content. React, for example, has a layer called the virtual DOM, or V-DOM. As things change within the data, the V-DOM is constantly changing, but will only update the HTML DOM when there is an HTML element change and that element is currently mounted. Pretty cool stuff!

Cons of Web Apps

It wouldn’t be fair to mention only the benefits of swapping over to web apps, when I did mention there are some cons. One of the big arguments against modern MVVM apps like React or Angular is that SEO takes a hit due to their heavy reliance on Javascript. While there may have originally been issues when the first came out to market, nowadays there are many strategies on how to maintain, or even improve, your SEO rankings with one of these modern web apps. I personally believe that the biggest negative to web apps is that they take longer to build and are generally more expensive. While most companies don’t find too much of an issue with this, there are some who have a shorter development timeline or an impacted budget. If this is the case, just get up and running with a static website for now and upgrade as necessary!

Conclusion

Well, that’s all I had for ya this week, folks! Obviously I had a lot to share on this topic and still have a lot more. If you’re still interested in learning more about web apps, or if you’re considering switching your website over to a web app, please let us know in the comments below and we’ll be sure to get back right away! The end of this article means that there’s only 2 more left in this mini-series. Check back next week for digital marketing and why every business could benefit from it. Bye for now!

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