Over the past decade or so, developers around the world have wrestled mightily with the question of whether to build native or web apps. Although some pundits claim that native apps have won that argument by delivering better performance, nobody should discount what modern, state-of-the-art web app frameworks can provide to users. Roman Jaquez, senior software development engineer at Philips Health Systems, thinks there are substantial benefits to going the web app route. Choosing to build a web app over a native one, he said, “gives you a broader spectrum of devices you can target with a customized user experience for each, using the same code base.” When built by the right development team, a web app can also approach—if not match—a native app’s performance. Jaquez also believes that web apps offer some advantages in terms of user acquisition and retention. “Users will be able to access your web app directly from their mobile browsers (no downloads required), get more frequent updates (even in real-time) with virtually the same experience as a native application (when optimized for mobile using the right strategies),” he said. But those advantages hinge on a team architecting a web app for peak mobile optimization. 

Web Apps Building Blocks

For those developers interested in building web apps that achieve this “max optimization,” there are a couple of key things to keep in mind. First, you must deliver something that meets current customer needs “without hindering the application from scaling in the future,” Jaquez said. In order to build something truly scalable, he added, developers should pay attention to “modularization both in the front layer and backend, implementing microservices, and componentization of your app.” Security is also critical: If users don’t feel safe, they simply won’t use your app. “Guarding your web app routes based on role to prevent unauthorized access to certain resources are the minimum requirements to be implemented in any modern web app (with very minimal effort) to establish a solid and secure foundation,” Jaquez said. Speed is similarly important. If users perceive your web app as too slow, they simply won’t use it. Jaquez works on healthcare apps, which means that app response times can literally become matters of life and death. Even if your app isn’t determining someone’s health, though, performance should nonetheless remain top-of-mind during the development phase. Fortunately, there are also a lot of routes toward speeding up responsiveness, from studying network latency and database performance to streamlining how pages render on the client side.

New Technologies

The improvement and spread of web apps hinges on a core set of technologies, including WebAssembly and Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which operate like regular web pages but also include app-like features such as push notifications and device hardware access. Jaquez suggests that PWAs are more than “just another hype word,” and actually “merge the best features available on most modern web browsers with the benefits of native mobile app user experience.” (If you’re interested in a deeper dive into PWAs, particularly in comparison to native apps, check out this Medium piece by Google’s Dan Dascalescu.) There are also technologies designed to take web apps into the future—specifically, AFrame, React360, WebXR, and other tools and platforms that can make augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) available via the browser. Taking AR and VR beyond native apps could radically change how we interact with our devices in years to come. That being said, such advances could also take quite a bit of time, as web-app technologies will need to evolve to take better advantage of device hardware.

New Skillsets

At Philips, employees participate in a combination of internal training and hackathons in order to better master cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (A.I.), machine learning, and AR/VR. That’s particularly important in healthcare, which depends heavily on constant innovation, but it also applies to pretty much every industry. As Jaquez can attest, keeping up-to-date on the latest tech (and the skillsets required to use it) is essential—whether you’re building web apps or anything else.