People often ask what the difference is between a website, a web application, and an App for smart phones. While some may use the terms interchangeably, due to changes in technology, there are distinct differences, and potential advantages & disadvantages to note for each.
The Definition of a Website (The Beginning of Web 1.0)
The term website is often used generically and loosely to describe any place on the internet in which visitors can connect and navigate web pages containing data, text, images, audio, video, and other media through hyperlinks.
- A website can be a static site (that only allows visitors to read and view information, images, and other content) known as Web 1.0 technology.
- Or a website can be dynamic, (in that it allows a visitor to interact with the website and data, literally affecting the website output) known as Web 2.0 technology.
Historically, a website, (or Web 1.0 Technology) lacks dynamic user interaction, and only allows for viewing of information posted by a website owner; or sending of information via forms. This vastly describes how websites were used from the mid-1990's through early 2000.
- Interactive information sharing as seen with social network sites such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- Interactive member and e-commerce related functionalities such as PayPal, Amazon, Ebay, etc.
Many of these interactive websites are often considered "website applications".
Defining a Web Application (Growing Into Web 2.0)
A web application (also often referred to as a website), is in fact a web-based "software program" that resides on a server computer connected to the internet, (rather than residing on a home/office computer like most traditional software programs).
Since the early 2000's, website applications have become as powerful as traditional software applications made for a home or business computer, yet are often more flexible and dynamic.
Because web applications are developed for the internet, and use some of the latest Web 2.0 Technology, these advanced websites allow users to perform tasks that could never be performed on a traditional software application using a home/office computer.
A perfect example of a major company taking advantage of Web 2.0 Technology and web applications is Intuit, the makers of QuickBooks and TurboTax. Many are familiar with QuickBooks and TurboTax as a traditional software program that can be purchased at the store, and then install on a home/office computer.
Using Web 2.0 Technologies, Intuit took TurboTax, Quicken, and QuickBooks to the next level, and made accounting, tax preparation, and filing entirely web-based. The software to run Intuit's new programs are installed on Intuit's server computers, rather than the user's personal home computer.
This means the consumer no longer has to purchase the software to install on their computer. Instead, by simply going to TurboTax's website where one can login to Intuit's web-based TurboTax program, and use TurboTax on the web from any computer with Internet access!
Web Applications & Day-to-Day Business (A Web of Data Processed By Machines Web 3.0)
As we've seen over the past 15 years, the advent of Web 2.0 Technologies, and the creation of web applications has had tremendous impact on all business, consumer, and retail markets. Today's technologies allow for consumer and business interactions that were once considered impossible to be implemented by even the smallest of businesses.
Web applications are being used to manage every aspect of business and communication. From managing website content using a CMS (Content Management System), to managing customer records and notes online using a CRM (Customer Records Management System), to managing orders, deliveries, and more using a customized online e-commerce shopping cart.
For an investment similar to that of many single PC-centric software programs, a custom web application can be developed to fit most any specific company's business needs to manage data.
As well, because a web application is fluid and web-based, one can constantly modify and change the web application as the business needs change.
Web 3.0 (known as the Semantic Web) is the culmination of all the above knowledge; the ability for machines to manage and process the data gathered from the Web 2.0 technologies.
Mobile Web (A Revamp Web 4.0)
Since Google brought about "Mobilegeddon" back in 2015 and 2016, a furious revamp took place to make sure that all websites were mobile-friendly and responsive based on screen sizes.
This particular step isn't necessarily a new variation of the web with new features; instead it an alternative variation brought about by the need of users to access full websites and all their features from any device whether it be a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smart phone.
Prior to responsive design, many websites were built strictly for desktop viewing. If a user wanted to view a website on their phone, they either had to pinch or stretch the screen to read content. If there was a "mobile-friendly" website for a phone, it was usually a dumbed-down version of the main desktop site, lacking many features and functionalities.
Web 4.0 is an adaptation to the new mobile reality and surroundings; it connects all devices in the real and virtual world in real-time.
Open, Linked & Intelligent Web (Symbiotic Web 5.0)
This version of the web is still developing, but appears to becoming a web that's linked and communicating with us, like we communicate with others (like your personal assistant). This variation of the web is going to be very powerful and fully executing; it's the read-write-execution-concurrency web.
The Web 5.0 is shaping up to be about emotional interaction between humans and computers. As this version matures, it's thought to be an autonomous, proactive, self-learning, collaborative web.
It will probably be a few more years yet before experts will full realize what the Web 5.0 means for society and humans at large.
While nearly every business in today's world has a website, (whether Web 1.0 technology or higher,) only a comparative handful have developed Smartphone Apps (Applications).
Phone Apps are essentially equivilent to the traditional software programs that are installed on local computer desktops, laptops, etc. Most all smartphone apps are platform-hardware centric; meaning that the app will only run on an Apple iDevice, Google Android Device, and so on.
These smartphone apps can be programmed to do most anything from pulling in web data, to processing that data, and outputing the results for users on the device. These are essentially mini-computers running user-managed software programs.
While many smartphone apps take advantage of Web 1.0 - 3.0 technologies, and can perform very powerful functions, they are still tied directly to a particular platform device; whether enhanced or limited by features of that particular device.
For example, a phone app could be considered a benefit for users in certain instances by allowing the app to take advantage of device specific hardware features, such as GPS locating, cameras, microphones, etc; which may not be available via regular website applications in a regular browser.
On the other hand, phone apps are limited to specific devices such as Android or Apple; whereas web apps are capable of being accessed via most any full-HTML compliant device (most smart phones today), and will allow any user, on any platform, to access the website application.
There are certainly pro's and con's to website apps versus phone apps, and each must be weighed according to the needs of the business and its clientele. Some industries may require both a web app, in addition to a smartphone app, based on their potential target market.