One of the key differences between a mobile website and a mobile app is that an app looks and feels like a “native” application. What does this mean and why is it important?

A typical mobile website page will look identical on every device.

 

FPA Mobile Web

But that isn’t necessarily the case for a mobile app. Take for example a simple tab layout. On the iPhone the tabs are at the bottom (with icons), on Android the tabs are at at the top (and scroll horizontally), and on the Windows Phone the tabs are represented by individual pages which can be accessed by swiping left or right.

FPA Mobile App

Now, as an iphone user, I find the Android and Windows Phone layouts unnatural, but to a user of those devices they would feel natural and the iPhone layout would be weird. So in this particular context, a “native” look and feel refers to the typical familar experience for a user of that particular device. A Windows Phone user knows to swipe between pages, the iPhone and Android user knows to tap the tab link.

From a user experience perspective, developing a mobile app that looks familiar and feels natural to use will enhance the user’s experience and make them more likely to use it again and again in the future.