The difference between an app and a mobile site is…

The other day, I nearly smacked the sh*t out of my wife.

Or rather, I had the urge to smack the sh*t out of my wife.

Now, I’m not a violent person.

Nor do I support domestic violence of any kind.

But she asked me a question…

So vile…

So base….

That it took every sinew in my body to restrain myself.

What, pray tell, did she ask to create such an impassioned emotional response?

“What’s the difference (between an app and a mobile site)?”

Can you believe it?

The nerve of this heifer.

I’ve been married to this broad for almost 13 years.

I’ve been in the mobile app/technology space for over a decade.

Over this period, I regaled her with stories of my exploits in cyberspace.

I converted her from a cave dwelling savage to a member of civilized society.

Where once stood a technophobe, now exists a technophile.

I brought her from a clamshell to a smartphone.

Raised her from the ignorance of PCs to the enlightenment of Apple.

Brought her from the dark of online social isolation to the light of social media and networking.

But, I digress.

Why did I want to inflict bodily harm?

Well, she was “pinning” on her Droid II and remarked how fluid the Pinterest mobile website was.

I casually remarked that if the mobile site worked so well, that the app would probably work better.

Following my advice, she fumbled around trying to locate the link to the Google Play Store on her device before realizing that the app was already installed.

Apparently, months ago, when she became the Pinterest-junkie she is today, I had installed the app to feed her voracious pinning appetite.

She had been using the app for a hot minute, thinking she was on their mobile site.

It was then, that she uttered those three dreaded words: what’s the difference.

They cut me like a knife.

She was looking down at her phone and didn’t see the murderous rage in my eyes.

We were in a public place (Ruby Tuesday) with the kids, so I channeled my inner Shaolin monk to avoid lunging across the table and throttling her.

Could she really not know the difference?

Maybe all the times she feigned sleep as I recounted my days’ work, she was really dozing off and not paying attention.

I should have known, with all those Help Desk moments, assisting her to remotely recover a file she thought she had deleted or locate a download on her computer.

Perhaps she was…daft?

My rage was quickly replaced by pity for my poor ignorant spouse, who continually failed to avail herself of her husband’s brilliance.

And it dawned on me.

If my bottom bitch didn’t know the difference between an app and a mobile site, perhaps my thirteen readers didn’t either.

I must right this wrong.

First, let’s start with definitions.

An app is a software application that’s written in the language of the mobile platform upon which it operates.

A mobile site is a website that has been optimized for browsing on mobile devices.

Now lets look at the primary differences between them, in the areas of: access, connectivity, content and compatibility.


Apps are usually accessed directly from the mobile device. Typically, there is an icon for the particular app you wish to utilize, which launches the app. Click it and you’re off!

Mobile sites, on the other hand are usually accessed from within the mobile web browser. In order to access a mobile site, you’ve got to open up your browser, plug in the URL and hit enter. On many smartphones, though, you can now create a shortcut, which allows you to save the location of the web page as an icon on your device, which then opens up like an app.


Apps are usually available whether you’re online or offline. While many apps require an Internet or wifi connection to update their content, most are built to be used regardless of whether a connection exists. Typically, if a user is offline they can continue to use their app, and it will update once they’re in range of a signal.

Mobile sites require a cellular or wifi connection to be used. If you’re not in range of a wifi signal or rocking a device with a robust 3G or 4G, then connecting to a mobile site will be slightly…problematic.


When you’re on an app, the content in the app can be stored on the device, pulled from the web and downloaded to the device, or both. Most game apps usually have content stored on the device. They user isn’t required to be online in order to play. Many games in the Apple app store, however, are now adding Game Center capabilities, which allow you to play against other users remotely. Game center content requires an Internet or wifi connection.

If you’re on a mobile site, the content is only available online. If you can’t get online, you can’t get to the content of the mobile site you’re trying to reach. Period. If you’ve got cached web pages, they’ll appear when you open up your browser, but once you try to load/reload that page, you’re screwed.


Apps are designed specifically for the devices they operate upon. An iOS app will not work on an Android device. An Android app will not work on an IOS device. And nothing works on Blackberries. Compatibility is not really the forte of apps.

Mobile sites, on the other hand, are compatible across devices and browsers. With the exception of Flash (which still does not work on iOS devices) most features and functions on mobile sites work on virtually all mobile devices.

My sweet ignorant wife got the abridged version of this breakdown.

Hopefully it stuck.

In my pity, I no longer harbored the desire to smack the shit out of her.

While my pimp hand is strong, so is my compassion for the enfeebled.

Hopefully my explanation of the differences between apps and mobile sites are too.

Note to my wife: If you’re reading this blog, these are just jokes. I never want to smack the shit out of you…except when you’re talking to me while sports are on the tele…or when you prattle on endlessly about inane topics you know I could give a fuck about…or when you get on me for being on my phone. But aside from that, you know I loves you.


Filed under apps, iPhone, mobile

12 responses to “The difference between an app and a mobile site is…

  1. I just came across something you might fight interesting. I feel that it’s a game changer for sure. Two links actually.


    • Levy, after my cursory review, I’m inclined to agree. Anything that gives users apps-like power in a browser is sure to render the mobile vs. native debate meaningless. I am curious though, about how well does it function over 3G/4G versus Wifi? Is any of it cacheable? How much of the functionality you lose if you’re not actually online?


      • I’d have to say to answer that question you’re still thinking inside the “box”. Mobile apps CAN be stored on the device as well – just as native apps are. There are SO MANY platforms and methods to do this, it’s just not even an issue any longer. PhoneGap, Native wrapper, and eventually probably even in the OS itself – just to name a few.

        Heck, iOS is half way there with the mobile icon on the home screen thing. The mobile app site is usually cached and will load without a connection if it’s using local resources only. To allow mobile apps to be stored on the device itself (without help) is simply a matter of turning a switch on for Apple. For now, there are those other few options.

        Also, as said before – the browser is gaining more and more functionality. With HTML5 most of the devices internal operations are being exposed to mobile apps. This includes accelerometers, GPS, camera, etc.

        Without going into too much detail, the company I work for is deploying an app that is developed primarily in HTML, JS, CSS but will be deployed using a Native wrapper so that the content can be stored on the device. Thus allowing the app to not require an internet connection. This app will also use a lot of the iOS hardware.

        Hopefully this answers some of your questions. =)


      • I also forgot to mention, that you should keep an eye on javascript. I believe it IS the future of programming. It’s already being used client side, server, and everywhere in-between. Javascript, with the new V8 engine has already reached native app speeds comparable to programming languages like C/C++.

        The simplicity of javascript allows developers to write code in a tenth of the time. Although that figure was pulledout of my butt, it really is true. Not to mention javascript doesn’t need compiler tools or fancy development software. Program it with any text editor, deploy it, then forget about it.

        The only problem I forsee with js is the ability to protect commercial work. I’m sure someone out there could easily implement such a system though. But heck, C++ programs are even being ripped, cracked, and stolen now so at the moment there really isn’t much of a difference.


  2. Anonymous

    Your poor wife…


  3. unless of course you’re on the new Firefox OS, at which point the app / webapp is no different from one another.


    • Aaron, thanks for reading and your comment. I’ve read about the Firefox OS, but I’m not sure how that impacts native app development.

      It sounds like its a web app that recognizes the browser on the device and renders the appropriate content (in this case app) for the device.

      But doesn’t this still require a user to be able to access the Internet or rely on a cellular or wifi connection?


      • I do believe most of the web apps are downloaded onto the device for local use and thus no longer require internet access. Obviously this rule wouldn’t apply to applications similar to my earlier comment of weather. social media, streaming content, etc.


  4. All true, yet still so seamless. Many libraries / technologies exist like PhoneGap that have merged those boundaries so much, there is yet no difference or any way to tell a difference at least. PhoneGap is basically a mobile web browser that gives the underlying mobile application / website (designed in HTML, Javascript, CSS, etc) functions to the mobile OS functions and libraries. No, really! You can design a mobile website and have it act the same as a mobile application with the same exact feature set. So what is this new found technology? Well, it’s both really. It IS a mobile application and it IS a mobile website. Also, to clarify – data can be stored either on the mobile phone or in the cloud somewhere. Functions can either be web functionality or mobile OS functionality or both. Content can either be loaded locally from the mobile device or loaded from an online page. So what makes the difference? Unfortunately these features lack the fluidness and consistency of a mobile application. HTML 5 is pretty advanced stuff but its not up to par (video rendering wise) as mobile applications. When that happens, there will be no difference with technologies like the aforementioned PhoneGap. Oh, also to take this one step further. Code the app once and deploy to all known devices. Which include iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, etc. You can imagine why this would be such an improvement over existing technologies – if only HTML video rendering was on par with mobile apps. My rant. Interested in knowing your thoughts.


    • Levi, that’s very interesting indeed. I’m not familiar with PhoneGap, but I’m going to look into it. I’m curious about its ability to replicate a seamless experience regardless of whether its a local app on the device or pulling from the Cloud/Internet. Isn’t there still reliance on connectivity if content is stored in the cloud/remote server?

      Sure, if you’re online or have 3G/4G, I understand that they can work or perform the same. Many apps are simply native wrappers around mobile web content.

      But ‘on deck’ performance is only one test.


      • Obviously with any solution that requires internet connectivity, the content rendering would fail. However, you could most certainly code a backup plan to store that data locally UNTIL the connection becomes available and when this happens then sync that data with the online content. However, there would be no difference with this and a native application that requires internet. For example, a weather application, social media, etc. The list is too numerous to go into.

        By engineering default, PhoneGap stores the “application” (ie; the html, js, css, etc) on the phone itself, unless coded otherwise. The underlying OS functions are available via javascript. You could however incorporate other technologies into the application like JSON, ajax, polling, etc. All javascript libraries would also be available if the developer wanted to incorporate those as well.

        As I stated earlier, my ONLY pet peeve with these types of technologies are the video rendering performance. From personal experience, the scrolling and smooth animation just isn’t up to par. However, I believe that as the mobile industry gets more advanced and hardware specifications increase, ie; processing power and memory then we will likely see more of these types of applications pop up.


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