4 Notable Differences Between App and Website Development

Person holding a white iphone

Recently, an existing client of Zivtech reached out to us to redo an app. This is a project Zivtech Creative Director, Barry Brooks, sees more like a “revolution, and not an evolution.” During the development process, Barry, along with Zivtech’s Web Design Co-op, Claudia Bonitatibus, encountered crucial considerations to optimize app performance, and user experience.


First thing’s first: mobile applications require an entirely different navigational structure. Modern browsers are reasonably consistent in the way that they interpret code and display websites. The gestures of the desktop cursor on a given page are limited, but apps utilized on tablets, and mobile devices depend upon additional gestures like tapping, swiping, and pinching for navigation, requiring content to be organized and optimized for those specific interactions.

Claudia stressed the need for apps to have a hierarchy system in place that prioritizes content and makes the most important features easily visible at a user’s first glance. Oftentimes users are looking for something specific, and if it is not readily accessible, or easy to navigate to, they will find an alternative app.

Barry also noted, there can be a tendency to migrate best practices from website development to app development, something he likened to the file folders of yesteryear and the folder icons on your desktop. He explained while some may think the navigation bar on their website would work just as well for their mobile site, attention needs to be paid to the types of gestures expected of mobile users, size of those users’  fingers, and the size of the touchpoints that would activate an application feature.


Our team used Drupal as the primary content management system for this project, which is also used in building websites. Whereas with a website, the finished page is uploaded to a server and is interpreted similarly by different browsers, apps need to be developed for both iOS and Android devices.

To work around having to make two distinct apps for each respective operating system, our team used a product called React Native, which allows developers to create iOS and Android apps using Javascript. 


When apps are developed for iOS and Android, they have to go through an approval process before hitting the marketplace, an additional barrier that websites are not subject to. 

As Barry noted, the Apple and Android stores are looking out for users and ensuring that they are supplying apps with user value. Specifically, for this project, the client wanted to be able to update their own content, which will require the app to be resubmitted for approval with each update.

While the submission process may take some time, delaying user access to an app, Barry also indicated these marketplaces are an opportunity to differentiate one app from another. App stores provide descriptions of applications, carousels of images of the app in use, and other critical components in compelling a user to download. 


However, once you get a user to download your app, further barriers to the user experience can crop up. As Claudia indicated, it is the responsibility of the user to update the app after downloading, which means their access to the most up to date content is contingent upon yet another elective step. 

In addition, apps are often used in an offline capacity, meaning that they need to constantly be valuable to users, which is not necessarily an issue when designing a website. Claudia identified mobile apps should have a very low barrier for entry, allowing users to get to the app experience as quickly as possible.

Typical barriers for entry include things like tutorials, on-boarding information, and form fill-ins, and while these features can be necessary to the app experience, Claudia noted that users don’t want to “jump through hoops” before even utilizing the app.

Ultimately, while similarities exist between the processes of app and website development, apps warrant additional attention to multiple factors. They place more responsibility upon the user than websites do, and face unique navigational challenges and barriers to entry. 

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