Before the iTunes App Store existed, before there was Google Play, before the Android Market came to be, there were web apps. The proliferation of offerings at these app stores has made many people forget that web apps exist. But web apps continue to be very handy tools, especially for mobile devices such as a smartphones and tablets. If your smartphone app store doesn’t have a particular app, you may be able to use a web app instead.
Back in the Olden Days, before the iTunes App Store was launched, I owned an iPod Touch and would use web apps frequently to search for recipes and movie times, for currency and metric conversion, and to find the closest petrol station (I was living in the UK at the time). Now, with my smartphones and iPad loaded with mobile apps, I tend not to use web apps as much, but they still can be very useful.
What are Web Apps?
Web apps or web applications are websites designed to work as tools, similar to mobile apps that reside on your phone. Web apps are designed to perform a function, just as mobile apps do.
The benefits of web apps are that they don’t take up space on your device, don’t need to be downloaded, can be accessed from any Internet connected device, and are free. The downsides are that you must have an Internet connection to use them (mostly, though there are some that work off-line) and they may not have as many features or functions as a native app.
Recently, web apps became more popular after Apple replaced the Google Maps app on the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch with its own Maps app. People who missed having the Google Maps mobile app on their iDevices turned to the Google Maps web app.
How to Use Web Apps
To use a web app, go to the browser on your mobile device, Safari for Apple devices, Browser on Android devices. Enter the website address of your web app and wait for it to load. Follow the instructions and you will be using your web app.
For example, if you want to use the Google Maps web app on your iPhone, open Safari and go to maps.google.com. Google will ask to use your Current Location (you need to allow it for the web app to work). You will also be asked if you want to add an icon to your home page. You should allow this if you will be a frequent user of the app. Type in the address and Google Maps will show you the location.
If you use a web app frequently or want to keep it handy, add it as bookmark or to your home screen so it appears as an icon.
How to Find Web Apps
Many popular websites have web apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, eBay, Pandora, Wikipedia, Epicurious, and many email sites.You can find web apps by searching web app directories such as AppAppeal, App Useful, and Listio.
Apple device users can head to http://www.apple.com/webapps/ on their iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and browse through dozens of web apps, including games, recipes, utilities and tools.
Why Not Just Use Web Apps?
You may be wondering why you would bother loading mobile apps onto your device when you can use web apps.
— Not all websites function as web apps. Some websites aren’t interactive so won’t provide you the information you need.
— Mobile apps are optimized to be viewed on your device. Their displays are created to be seen best with the resolution and size of your screen.
— Mobile apps can take advantage of the capabilities of your device. Smartphones and tablets can be very smart, with features such as a compass, GPS, gyroscope and others that can be utilized most effectively by mobile apps.
— Mobile apps may be able to work off-line. Web apps mostly depend upon an Internet connection and may use up more of your monthly data limit. A mobile app may be able to store information on your device and work when you’re not connected to the Internet, reducing your use of data on your cell phone plan and your dependence upon an Internet connection.
Use web apps to keep precious space free on your mobile device and access web tools on the go.
Have you ever used web apps? Do you prefer using web apps or native apps on your mobile device? Let us know in the Comments section below!
*Web Apps image (edited) by Frankie Roberto