Web apps 101: Websites, web apps, progressive web apps, and how they all relate to your user

web apps illustration with laptop and mobile phone

Web apps 101: Websites, web apps,

progressive web apps, and how they

all relate to your user

A company’s website is its first impression. If a potential customer is visiting your website, they only have about 7 seconds before they lose interest and go to browse a competitor’s site. What will it take to make them stay? What will turn a visitor into a user? Engaging content helps, yes. But it’s important that the technology supporting the experience is the appropriate sort. Does your team need a website or a web app? Did you know there was a difference?

What is the difference between a website and a web app?

To many people, this is a nuanced definition, but the main difference between a website and web app is the level of interaction required. A website is meant to be static and only used to display content. A web app however, is meant to provide an interactive platform for a user and isn’t just a standstill set of pages. Web apps are able to provide dynamic content based off of the data that they collect, which is user-specific.

Think of small businesses, like restaurants and boutiques that may want to display their store hours and have a few pages with content that isn’t likely to change. All these businesses need is a website. However, say you were logged onto a retail website and your last purchase was a pair of black boots. The next time you log in, the web app will display shoes on sale that you may like featuring the same boot, but in different colors. If your use case requires a product to interact using the data it has on a web visitor, then a web app may be most appropriate.

If you’re hoping that your visitors will interact with your site in one way or another–like having to log in and submit personal details or save specific pages to their profile, then you may need a web app, which provides dynamic content.

What are Progressive Web Apps?

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) have become more popular since they were announced by Google in 2015 and are accessible mainly via Chrome and Firefox, though Safari isn’t far behind on making sure PWAs are compatible on their browser also. Progressive Web apps are a bit different than regular web apps in that they take advantage in some of the native components of mobile apps. PWAs are highly regarded because they are fast, reliable, and meant to be highly engaging. Because they utilize native components, users are able to interact with web apps via their mobile devices, even when there isn’t a live internet connection (data will sync back up once the connection becomes live again), and other tools that are popular on mobile, like push notifications, can also be used with PWAs. The addition of these tools means that a progressive web app can be far more interactive and engaging than a typical web app. The development for PWAs does not involve a difficult process, though it is more time intensive than building a run-of-the-mill web app.

Here are examples of how companies in different industries are utilizing web apps to service their customers:

Healthcare & Medical

Web apps are providing professionals in the medical field a closer relationship with their patients. PowerChart allows medical professionals to streamline a patient’s care, giving physicians access to medical records, lab charts, and other documents.


If you’re working at an ecommerce company then a web app can be extremely helpful and is often necessary if you intend to sell products via your website. Users should be able to purchase products and store information, such as shopping history. Etsy has a wonderful web app that allows users to see their past purchases, track packages, consistently view receipts and even contact the craft “shop owner” from which they bought the product.

Web app example from Etsy.com of a gift that was bought

Esty.com’s web app allows users to see past purchases, view receipts, and contact shop owners if needed.


Runkeeper’s web app allows you to view and interact with a Dashboard that shows your activity stats, reports, routes, and their community. While Runkeeper also has a mobile app, some users may want to log in from their desktop to get a different look at their fitness activities and how the information is displayed over time to gain further insights.

RunKeeper web app dashboard

Runkeeper’s web app displays a dashboard view of several stats in one place.

image of RunKeeper's iOS app, 3 iPhone screens with different views

Runkeeper’s iOS mobile app allows users to view info in several different ways.



In the workplace, having a user experience available on a larger screen often enhances the user experience. Apps like Trello allow users to prioritize the tasks of their day-to-day and do it efficiently. Web apps can be useful when a tool needs to be utilized by a team, rather than only an individual. Imagine a team of colleagues each looking at their mobile devices while in a meeting; now imagine that they all have the same experience while referencing a web app’s dashboard, displayed on a conference room projector or television. When the web apps are used individually, specific reports are more easily digested on a larger display than on the small display a mobile phone would provide.

Trello's web app dashboard showing to-do lists for different company departments

Trello’s web app allows companies to streamline efforts and increase efficiency.


When handling sensitive information, such as banking details or tax forms, many users prefer to sit down and take the time to use a software on their desktop or laptop. Web apps like TurboTax allow users to perform their financial tasks with trust and ease.

What do these web apps have in common?

What many of these web apps tend to have in common is that companies will often also invest in a mobile app, because they understand the variety of use cases their own users’ experience, like needing to view a report with colleagues as well as reference materials on the go. But if there are two experiences available (mobile or web), which is smartest to focus on?

This is a question that we get at Raizlabs from clients and professionals at a technological crossroads. How your users intend to interact and engage with your product and its content determines whether or not a web app or a mobile app (or any type of tech) will be a useful tool for them. Often times, web apps which can be used on a desktop or laptop are more desirable for certain tasks. Think of the doing your taxes or using a tool that compiles a large set of data on a mobile phone. Is it comfortable and efficient to be using the app on such a small screen? A larger screen, as simple as it may seem, can add a lot to a user experience and how a user interacts with a product. There are similar arguments to be made for mobile apps, which allow you to experience a product on the go and which have user interfaces that are just as enjoyable, depending on the end goal of the product.

A great way to explore how prospective users may interact with a product is to do user testing and gain insight into how they will respond to the options provided.

It All Comes Down to the User

Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a big change in demand for web apps. We’ve witnessed many companies exploring the world of transition from websites to web apps and learning more about how their users interact with their products. In some cases, the demand for web apps has morphed into a need for progressive web apps or even a transition to mobile apps. In the end, what will be the best strategy for your team depends on how your user will interact and respond to a product. If you’d like to explore how a web app could enhance your user’s experience, get in touch!


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