Web app vs website

Our Software Developer, Rhys Evans, explains the difference between a web app and website, giving insight into the future of both, which he says will no doubt include more chatbots, virtual assistants and single page applications.

What is the difference between a web application and website?
 
Generally speaking, a website is primarily informational and contains little (if any) interactivity. Take a news website for example – a user is there to read articles first and foremost, but might subscribe to a feed, search for news or potentially log in to comment on an article.
 
A web app, on the other hand, involves additional functionality. A user will generally interact more directly with a web app to accomplish what they set out to do by visiting it. Take online shopping for example – a user will use the web application to choose items to purchase and go through the process of buying those items through the functionality it offers.
How would a business know if they need a website or web app, or both?
 
If a business only needs to provide information to the customer, they might only need a website. Once more complex functionality needs to be supported, it’s time to start considering a web app.
 
It’s possible that a business might want to consider both if they wish to separate their informational content from their interactive content, but generally speaking a web application can fulfil the purpose of a website while also offering more capabilities.
 
Do you think, as more people use mobile, the traditional website will become a thing of the past?
 
As long as there is a need for purely informational content on the web, the traditional website will still have a place. But as people do more from their mobile – web applications will become more integral to businesses.
 
From a competitive standpoint, the ability to engage a business online and do everything you need from the palm of your hand is something taken for granted much more often nowadays. Without that convenience, one risks potential customers looking elsewhere.
 
From a developer’s perspective, what’s more fun to build?
 
For a developer, web apps win out, overall. Web apps can be catered to solve all manner of problems, whereas a traditional website will have a narrower purpose, even if the content itself can differ significantly from site to site. Helping a business to explore their business processes and implement functionality to solve a challenging problem can be quite rewarding.
 
Additionally, just as web apps can help to solve a wider variety of problems, it’s also an opportunity to explore a wider variety of technologies both new and old to overcome them. An opportunity to learn something new can make for an enjoyable experience. Of course, a website can still leverage newer technologies and can present interesting content management challenges, but they are less likely to need it – HTML, CSS and JavaScript will go a long way there.
 
What do you see trending in the area of web apps or websites, what does the future hold?
 
Barring any unexpected emerging technology, it looks like we’ll see some of the popular new ideas of previous years take more of a hold.

We’ll see more single page applications (a type of web application) which will enhance user experience by keeping the user on a single page that updates with content on the fly as the user navigates – minimising the risk of disconnect via long load times that can occur when standard web applications need to load a new page. Newer front end technologies like Angular, React and Vue JS will help facilitate this and make it easier for developers to build them.
 
Mobile first is still going strong – we will see more and more businesses building their websites and web applications for mobile first and catering to other screens second.
 
Concepts like machine learning will drive more chatbots for user interaction. The ability to purchase a product or obtain information via a conversation with a human-like AI rather than clicking through a web app is becoming the norm, and chatbots will be there to further that. Machine learning will also serve to help the user experience by helping to spot trends and analyse how people use the web, allowing us to cater to users more effectively.
 
As virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana continue to develop and see more use, we’ll also start to see more ‘headless’ content through Content Management Systems like Kentico or Umbraco, where businesses organise their information in a way that all devices, not just the web browser, can interact with one source of truth.
 
Supporting all of the above will be the continued growth of cloud and serverless technologies, which will help in both the hosting of these websites and web applications as well as the development of the functionality sitting behind the scenes.