I was in a training session, where a room full of designers were learning iOS prototyping in Xcode, and there was an individual there who came from Apple to make sure everything in the course was done properly, and if there were any questions, she would be the point of contact (mind you, she was a developer). Then she brought up a point where native iOS apps should be distinctly different than a website's responsive mobile site.

Apple's ideology is that the iOS native app should be different than their web experience, but from the data we are getting, users don't make a distinction between mobile and native and that the experience in both should be consistent.

I believe they shouldn't have different experiences, and leveraging the web's assets into the native app should be the way to go (hybrid apps: Amazon does it, Twitter does it, but Apple doesn't).

I downloaded Apple's native app, and yes, their experience is different. But why? Why does a mobile native app have to have a different feel? Does it? But if it doesn't, then why is Apple doing that? Is there something we, the public, are unaware of? If we don't need very different experiences then why does having to create a iOS app have to be a thing (putting aside that it's faster and more responsive in terms of interactions and animations - let's just pretend that responsiveness is equal in both environments).

  • You've certainly touched on a hot-button issue. Do you feel like you got an answer? If so, a friendly reminder: consider marking "the" answer—and consider voting up all comments that you found helpful—to reward participation in this discussion. :)
    – JeromeR
    Nov 4, 2015 at 11:17
  • Keep in mind that you also have Android and WP apps. So there are actually 4 different platforms designed to cater for 4 sets of user habits - not just 2 : )
    – Agent_L
    Nov 4, 2015 at 12:06
  • But that's what I'm saying. Does it have to be different?
    – UXerUIer
    Nov 4, 2015 at 12:12
  • 3
    First web sites start to look like apps, now apps are starting to look like web sites. What a time to be alive!
    – azz
    Nov 4, 2015 at 15:26
  • 1
    In my opinion, it's just a branding thing from Apple. They want to ensure their apps have "ios"-like-touch experience... It's the same reason they reject "Android" looking app if you try to get it through the app store.
    – CleverNode
    Nov 4, 2015 at 19:30

5 Answers 5


If your app is the same as your website, then why have an app?

As a mobile user, it drives me crazy how every single website tries to convince me to download a dedicated app, which often turns out to be nothing more than the same web functionality repackaged. This adds no user experience benefit at all.

I'm sure the company in question thinks it is a major marketing benefit to have a dedicated icon cluttering my home screen, but I just find it annoying. And since these apps are often done poorly, they create plenty of negative feelings toward the company when I try to use them.

This is something that "the data [you] are getting" may not capture. If you are just asking users to evaluate the app itself, you might not be capturing the experience of being asked to download and use the app within their phone environment. There is a definite negative here if your app just ends up feeling like a website, in my (subjective but very strong) opinion.

In short, if you're gonna make an app:

  • It should have a reason for existence. There should be a need for it that the website doesn't meet well. And I am talking about a reason the user wants it, not a reason the company wants it to be on the user's phone.
  • It should work well as an app, integrating into the phone environment. Often this does mean having a native look and feel. I suppose an app that does not follow platform conventions, but works well and accomplishes its task, may work fine in some cases. Not having a native appearance is a risk, though, as it may mean it is counterintuitive to users.

This rant might be a bit misdirected, and my apologies if it doesn't really apply to you. But even if this doesn't directly describe your company/client, I still think this is a good way to think about the issue.

  • 11
    In short, if you're not going to do something unique in your app, don't make an app at all. Sticking with just web doesn't present quite as well in a singular device environment, but for the masses that use multiple viewports into the Internet, a consistent web experience is superior. Nov 3, 2015 at 16:25
  • 4
    @dan1111 To flesh out your rant, I'd add some obvious reasons to make an app that runs on a phone: to take advantage of GPS, let the user make phone calls based on things in your app, let the user see their contacts in your app, and so on.
    – JeromeR
    Nov 3, 2015 at 17:25
  • 3
    That first sentence sums it all up beautifully. I work for a company that needs that first sentence printed out, framed, and delivered to every Product Owner we have on the mobile app team.
    – DA01
    Nov 3, 2015 at 17:41
  • 7
    Relevant xkcd: xkcd.com/1174 Nov 4, 2015 at 11:08
  • 3
    @JeromeR Web apps can take advantage of GPS and initiate phone calls. You don't need native for just that. You can also access user's contacts in a web app via OAuth if they're using Google Contacts or Outlook.com (but unfortunately not iCloud or locally stored contacts).
    – Ajedi32
    Nov 4, 2015 at 22:55

The Android could throw the Apple out the Windows

When you provide an Apple-like look and feel on a website, would people visiting the site who use Android phones, Samsung tablets, Windows phones, Surface tablets, and Windows laptops will see the same thing? If so, do you see how the Apple experience might not be familiar—or welcomed—by non-Apple users?

If you'll excuse this broken analogy, it's like asking people who go to Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken to dress in a Ronald McDonald clown suit before they can place their order.

  • I think looking at it from purely an iOS perspective, not even accounting for Android. Because if you really do want to create a seamless experience, you could match the design to match in both iOS and Android.
    – UXerUIer
    Nov 3, 2015 at 15:40
  • 1
    A great example of this is Google's Material Design. They don't even use iOS controlls in their iPhone app.
    – UXerUIer
    Nov 3, 2015 at 19:20
  • 1
    @Majo0od experience should be seamless from the point of user (that is among different apps on one phone), not from the point of site owner (that is among "one" app on different phones in your test department).
    – Agent_L
    Nov 4, 2015 at 12:09
  • @Agent_L then that I would argue that Google's Material design in their applications (google maps for instance) is consistent because it's in all of their application regardless of device, thus being seamless in the point of the user (and the business for that matter - but this doesn't always happen).
    – UXerUIer
    Nov 5, 2015 at 14:50
  • @Majo0od Google wants iOS users to switch to Android. Do you? /edit: I've just checked. Google Maps app on iOS is not same as Android one.
    – Agent_L
    Nov 5, 2015 at 15:19

There should certainly be a difference between the native app and the mobile web page. Not only does dan1111's point ring true - why bother with an iOS app if you're just repackaging the web page without changing it much - but you should make it play to the strengths of the platform.

What's important about a mobile webpage?

  • Small download footprint
  • Quickly see what's important
  • Enable user to do functionality likely to do on a phone

You end up discarding a lot of things that you would keep on the desktop app, right? A lot of Javascript, probably. A lot of images. Media. Simpler layout, reduced functionality, in order for it to display quickly and get the user where they're going as fast as possible.

On the other hand, your native app has some distinct advantages.

  • It can be pre-loaded with images, media, etc., to give a desktop-like response on a mobile page.
  • You can use scripting without having to worry about big Javascript library downloads and similar issues that would cause a mobile web page to take a long time to load.
  • You can use native structures, such as spinners/dropdowns/etc. that are familiar to the user
  • You can use built-in features to give more effective contextual help, and in some cases interact with other apps more readily (say, launching Twitter or Facebook)

So, if you do decide to write a native app, you should do so for the purpose of taking advantage of those things. If you're just displaying text, why bother? Mobile web pages do that fine. But if you can take advantage of the native app to provide better functionality for the similar responsiveness, and it's actually useful functionality, then go that route.

  • "You end up discarding a lot of things that you would keep on the desktop app, right?" = actually, no. Or at least not in the traditional sense. Ideally, a responsive web site has the exact same functionality regardless of the device. The difference is that you are removing all the unnecessary stuff that would traditionally be on the desktop...which actually improves the experience of the desktop experience as well.
    – DA01
    Nov 3, 2015 at 21:01
  • @DA01 Yes, a responsive web site has the same functionality. But the desktop site may be richer, still, no? Mobile uses stock buttons, desktop uses image buttons, for example. That sort of thing.
    – Joe
    Nov 3, 2015 at 21:03
  • Well, no, not really--not with a responsive site. The idea is you are serving the same to all. Just displaying it optimized for the particular viewport.
    – DA01
    Nov 3, 2015 at 21:04
  • Perhaps that's the core of my answer then - you build an iOS app when you want to provide more functionality than your responsive site (which is basically what the Apple dev was saying, as well).
    – Joe
    Nov 3, 2015 at 21:05
  • 2
    @Yakk I'm not sure I'm following. We're talking about responsive web sites here, which, ideally, offer the same functionality to the user regardless of the device.
    – DA01
    Nov 4, 2015 at 5:56

Long story short? Because there is no way on earth that your responsive website (or cordova app for that matter) will provide the apple user with an apple experience kinda app. And basically from my point of view that is what it's all about, not hybrid or native but the "apple experience".

If you're familiar with ios you can tell just by using an app if it's a hybrid app or a pure xcode app made with following the apple guidelines.

Like someone stated, when you're designing hybrid apps or responsive sites you're basically providing users with the android experience, the same android experience that makes me want to throw away my phone, controls are not the same, a lot of features are not implemented (shake to undo etc...) and so on.

  • 1
    This begs the question, which was essentially "Why is the 'Apple experience' beneficial/necessary?"
    – user31143
    Nov 4, 2015 at 10:14
  • 1
    What does that mean? Then are you saying google's iOS app is done wrong even though it only incorporates material design?
    – UXerUIer
    Nov 4, 2015 at 11:32
  • 1
    I would argue it's done correctly, because it flows with Google's brand and image. Why do you say it's wrong?
    – UXerUIer
    Nov 4, 2015 at 16:53
  • 5
    Absolutely disagree. I can show you tons of great iOS apps (including apps from Google, Amazon, Walmart) that are absolutely different from native iOS apps and still have fantastic experience and look just perfect. It all depends on how good (or bad) the app has been developed regardless of platform, Apple guidelines and other bs. Nov 5, 2015 at 4:39
  • 1
    @thibautnoah, you might be right, but the problem here is that you aren't providing any evidence to back up your point. Such evidence is needed for your answer to contribute to the discussion. Your response seems to be "it's just wrong, and Apple says so" which is exactly the position that the OP is questioning.
    – user31143
    Nov 5, 2015 at 16:40

A native app should be different that the responsive web, it depends on the use-case.

Sometimes, a responsive web app is great for new users who want to try the product, and a native app are great for frequent users who are more engaged with the product.

  • 1
    But why..? Why is it that it's great ONLY for new users and the other way for frequent users. That doesn't make any sense. Could you elaborate?
    – UXerUIer
    Nov 11, 2015 at 13:37
  • It's based on observed user behaviour. I've found that users perceive downloading and keeping and app on their phone as an investment. Users who use a product sparingly are much more likely to not have the native app installed. Frequent users expect to accomplish their tasks much faster and sadly, native apps perform much faster than their web counterparts. Nov 12, 2015 at 10:40

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