Matt Gammell had a really fascinating article on mobile web sites vs web apps vs native apps and the differences between then, starting from the user’s perspective.
Check it out here: http://mattgemmell.com/2011/07/22/apps-vs-the-web
There are so many good points in here that it’s really a must read for anyone who needs to make a decision that considers both user needs as well as the technology choice and investment strategy that is best suited for your organization.
The arguments back and forth are many, and this article does a thorough job of listing out reasons why web apps are different from native apps from the user’s perspective. A lot of it has to do with how close the app is running on the platform – the device. Web apps, by nature of running in the browser, are several degrees removed from the platform. You have to do all the work through the browser, which is itself an app. So even with the benefits of HTML5 (local storage, a canvas, etc.), you still don’t get full access to the underlying platform and you still find an app adorned with aspects of the browser experience (forward, back and all the other menus of the browser itself).
Apps feel designed. They feel tailored, and special. They’re lean-back, on-the-go, crafted, targeted things. The immediate extension of these properties is how at home they feel. We’ve all been pointing our fingers and hissing for years at the app that just wasn’t at home on our platform. An intruder in our midst, often from that worst of all possible worlds, cross-platform.
It’s a great consideration when picking a technology strategy. The argument frequently gets made that web apps benefit from faster release cycles, no need from approval, and so forth. But those arguments need to be supplemented by the arguments that largely consider things from a user’s point of view, and that point of view has to be a primary focus. It’s not the only focus, but all toO often gets ignored when companies are committing dollars to a mobile strategy.