There’s a big debate out there on this topic but there’s no silver bullet. Mobile web and native apps offer different benefits and serve different audiences. You need to look at what experience your app needs to deliver? What you are trying to achieve? What is your business model? What is your budget? Who is your target? etc; weigh the pros and cons of both the mediums and decide what works best for you.
Reach larger audience
Majority of users don’t own a smartphone and don’t access app stores; they are more likely to use a mobile browser and access the Internet from their mobile phone. The barriers to accessing a site via a browser are lower than those to downloading an app — even for smartphone owners
Lower cost and time to market
The biggest benefit mobile web offers is that you design once and it’ll run on all platforms with minimal tweaking. The fragmented nature of the mobile industry means that porting apps to different platform environments costs money — particularly when including maintenance and promotion costs.
Whatever changes you make become available instantly to the users
Some apps will be rejected from App stores (based on their terms) – so how much should you bank your businesses future on a platform you can’t control. The mobile Web does not censor content and allows you to publish when you want and what you want.
Low barrier to entry and no revenue share
Mobile Web has no entry costs, and you get to keep 100% of the revenue
Productivity in a browser depends on constant connectivity, and in the real world data connections can be fleeting. Native apps can be built to interact with users even if offline
Native apps can cache data persistently, hence, reducing data usage and providing a faster access to the data
Native apps can tap into the device’s functions and features providing richer experience and seamless integration with native features such as camera, address book etc. Users prefer an app that feels like it belongs on the phone rather than use a Web app that seems shoehorned onto the device using HTML.
Immersive apps like games need a lot more horsepower to deliver rich, polished experiences which the native apps can achieve easily
Native apps currently present better opportunities for stronger engagement — not only because they offer richer services and experiences, but also because they place the brand icon on the user’s home screen
Native app still offers the big advantage of being found easily in an app store. It is easier to build great marketing around apps than around mobile web links.
Before taking a decision on app or web, the value for the user must be made clear. That said, in most cases, if an organization is big enough or relevant enough to provide a native app, they also need to cater for the mobile web. So basically, native apps and mobile web are not mutually exclusive. Jeff Hayden shares his experience
It is obvious that from a cost / time to market / UX perspective the options order or path that businesses usually chose is:
1) mobile website transcoder/optimizer (with custom design option to enhance the UX)
2) own mobile website for the unique or relatively complex cases
3) native wrapper around mobile website from (1) or (2) built with PhoneGap or similar
4) 100% native app with great design
Many businesses skip some options, some of them make a mistakes by spending too much time on (3) before they reach (4) – but based on our experience most end up with combination of (1) and (4) or (2) and (4).
If you take a look at the publishers as a market/segment leaders (Bloomberg, BNET, TIME etc) who benefit from a mobile user base utmost – they all have mobile web sites along with native app. How did they all start? Mobile Web. And they will continue to maintain both.
If you want to dig in even more deeper Max Klatz has created an interesting table that gives a blow by blow comparison of native apps Vs mobile web