App prompt on mobile site.

If you browse the web on your phone, you’ve almost certainly seen prompts asking you to install an app. It seems odd to create a nice mobile-friendly website just to beg people to use an app instead. Why is that?

Beyond the fact that it’s generally annoying to be bombarded with prompts when you visit a site, it begs the question of why? Are they not proud of the experience offered by the mobile site? There are some reasons why the website owner benefits if you use the app.

Native Apps Feel Better

One thing that seems true no matter which platform you use is native apps feel better on phones. Mobile browsers have gotten very good, but a native app will generally be faster and easier to navigate.

Native apps can integrate with the system’s features better. Menus and navigation buttons can match what you’re used to in other apps. A mobile site will generally look the same on iPhone and Android, but apps can be customized to the platform more.

Website owners want the experience to be as painless as possible, so you keep coming back. That’s why they try to get you to use what they think is the better option. (Though, I have to wonder how the people who work on the mobile site feel about that.)

Apps Bring You Back

Another thing that native apps are better at doing is notifications, and notifications are important for bringing users back to the app. Mobile sites can also send notifications through the browser, but most people opt out when given the option.

Android, in particular, used to make it super easy for apps to send notifications. Users had to go out of their way to turn them off, which lead to a lot of notification spam. That problem has been fixed in the latest versions of Android, but people are generally more inclined to allow notifications in apps than websites.

Apps also are easier to put on your home screen than mobile website shortcuts. Having the app icon on your home screen will make you much more likely to open it again. That is the ultimate goal: to get you coming back over and over.

RELATED: How to Stop Annoying Website Notifications in Chrome on Android

More User Information for Advertisers

As you may have expected, advertisers play a role in websites pushing apps too. Different information can be collected in a native app compared to a website.

When you’re browsing the web, your data is collected via cookies. Information such as browsing history and user preferences is tracked. However, apps have access to anonymous demographic and location data, which is even more valuable to advertisers.

Of course, whether you use the mobile site or the app, your usage is being tracked, and advertisers are learning about you. But your browser may have some ad and tracker-blocking features built in that aren’t present in the site’s app.

RELATED: What Is a Browser Cookie?

Do Users Actually Prefer Apps?

The big question is which users actually prefer: website or app? There is some evidence that bugging people to install an app may not be necessary for boosting activity and engagement.

In 2016, Google highlighted the results of Flipkart switching from a native app-only approach to a progressive web app (PWA), which can work online and have a home screen icon—just like a native app. Users pretty drastically preferred using the web app over the native app.

Users spent three times longer on the web app than the native app. There was a 40% higher re-engagement rate, and 70% greater conversion rate for people who added a shortcut to the site to their home screen. And, very interestingly, the web app used three times less data.

That’s just one example, but with as good as mobile browsers and websites have gotten, especially with progressive web apps, it would seem native apps have never been less necessary. So please stop bugging us about it.

RELATED: What Is A Progressive Web App (PWA)?

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
Read Full Bio »