What is an app?

February 27th, 2020 - submitted by Jason Kotchoff

There is often a lot of confusion about what constitutes an 'app'. Technically speaking, both websites as well as native smartphone programs can be referred to as apps. However, there are some subtle and important differences when it comes to what they do.



A website ‘app’ is software that you can run in a web browser like Chrome, Safari or Firefox. It can maintain your session to some extent using ‘Cookies’ however those will often expire forcing you to log in again. A website app notifies you when you are not using it by sending you an email and is usually billed by credit card which you manually enter using a web form. Web apps can have a ‘Responsive Design’ so that they look good on both desktop and handheld screens.



A native handheld app is a program that is specific to either the iOS (Apple) or Android (Google) operating systems. It has a look and feel that is defined by the operating system theme and it is downloaded and installed from either the iTunes or the Google Play App Stores. A native app takes advantage of your phone or iPad’s inbuilt capabilities. For example, when you protect your device with thumbprint security, the app’s data is also protected. Native apps can be paid for using the credit card that you have saved in your App Store account. With native apps, if you grant them permission, they can also notify you when important events occur using a ‘push notification’ - a more immediate form of communication than email but a less intrusive medium than SMS.





Both web and native mobile apps can be secured using a username/password system however mobile apps can also take advantage of the biometric security on the device as well as the persistence of ‘state’ meaning being able to skip ‘logging in’.


Cross-platform access

Whereas mobile apps can only be used on the operating system they have been built for, website apps can be used on any operating system and typically any web browser.

Winner: WEB APPS


Both mobile and web apps can notify users by email however native apps also have a ‘push notification’ capability to send direct messages to users.


Payment and Billing

Making purchases on the web involves entering your credit card details on the vendors website and hoping that their security won’t leak your card details. Making payments in mobile apps is securely linked to the payment method set up in your App Store which is fully protected by either Apple or Google.



Native apps are built using user interface elements from the operating system (like pickers, buttons and toggles) whereas web apps typically implement their own ‘version’ of UI controls. Web apps however, can ‘stretch’ to fill up different screen sizes from mobile to desktop and potentially use that extra screen real estate for better functionality.

Winner: WEB APPS


In summary, both web and native apps can be useful. For the purpose of a stocks app however, we think having quick access to your watchlist and portfolio without having to log in every time makes a native app the better option. Read more about ASX Stocks apps here.