What to Consider When Converting a Web Experience to a Native App

Design Tips

Even today there are businesses and organizations that only have a web app or web experience. They’ve yet to create a native app that can be distributed in Apple’s App Store or Google Play though they realize the potential to reach new people or provide additional value to existing users. Savvy Apps regularly works with companies looking to add an app to complement their web experience. We've compiled this list of the most important considerations to address when moving from a web experience to a native app.

Assess Your Existing Web Experience

The first step in creating an app is to analyze your existing website. You should spend this initial discovery phase taking a look at what is and isn't working with your web experience. You can use this insight to not only improve the existing website or web app but gather initial ideas for the app experience. Let's say, for example, you’re a grocery store. Your website allows a user to prepare their weekly grocery list. Should your app just be a tool for users to create their own grocery lists or should you offer something different?

Facebook is another good example. They started with a website, then a web app, and later created a full native app that offers a simplified user interface and only some of the core features from their social networking site. Instead of adding new functionality or services in the app, Facebook chose to optimize its existing features for the app to allow users to stay connected with the social network from their devices. In recent years, they have even further unbundled their apps to have each focus on a more specific function (e.g., Messenger versus the flagship Facebook app).

Starbucks' app, on the other hand, really created a different kind of experience compared to the company's more marketing-based website. The Starbucks app gives users new ways to interact with their brand inside and outside the store, including allowing customers to customize, order, and pay for their drinks all within the app. We talk more about Starbucks' app strategy and how it boosted their sales in what app design looks like in 2016.

Identify Your App Audience

You already know who uses your website. Will those same people use your app as well or will you draw from another demographic? As you assess your existing website you may find that there is a key group of potential users you're missing, or that your current users are limited in how they can interact with your company.

Google Analytics or a similar tool is a great place to start because it can show you what platforms and devices people are using to view your website. It can also hint at the kinds of things users are or aren't doing on your site. To use the earlier grocery list example, you may notice that website visitors are creating grocery lists but are falling off the website before saving, printing, or emailing the lists for later access. This insight likely means that the customer isn't actually using the list when they visit the grocery store, hinting at a missed value proposition that you could add with an app.

Consider the Use Cases for Apps

It’s not just the device that’s different. Even if the same user interacts with your website and your app, chances are they will use your app at different times and locations and with different needs than when they visit your website. Going back to our grocery store example, the user who makes their grocery list on a website may be taking advantage of some downtime at work. That user's expectations, needs, and sense of urgency will be entirely different when they are using your app to check off items on their list while shopping at the grocery store with their kids in tow.

That’s why you need to consider the unique use cases that come with apps. Will your user access your app in a crowded place? Will they have poor cell signal or no WiFi? Will they use your app after a long day at work when they're tired and less likely to put up with a convoluted or lengthy app flow? By thinking about the context of how, when, and where your audience will use your app, you can ensure you're delivering a great experience that fits what your users need, when they need it.

There are some key use cases common across most great apps. They are stable, fast, polished, and intuitive. Great apps are a delight to use. They don't provide as much information as a website and may even direct the user to a website for additional information or a lengthier session. Your app will be held to the same standards as every other app in app stores, so it's essential to meet app design expectations. If you're unsure how to execute a particular app feature, check the app stores for similar apps. You should also examine other apps for ideas on how to improve on their features.

Define the Goals for Your App

Once you've assessed your existing web presence, determined who your app users will be, and come to understand the use cases for apps, you then need to take a good look at the reasons for creating an app. If in all your research you've come to the conclusion that your current website meets all of your business or organizational needs, then stop now. Creating an app is a large time and cost investment that shouldn't be undertaken if there's no business goal to gain.

You may find, however, that there's an opportunity for both your users and your organization. Your app's goals should come down to the intersection of your app audience's goals and what you want to accomplish. Some common goals include reaching new users, retaining existing users, adding more revenue-generating options, and increasing brand visibility and recognition, though there are many more.

Hone Your App Functionality

You shouldn't cram all of your website features into your app. Instead, focus on identifying the must-have features that are based on the goals for your app and the uses cases for them. Some companies with extensive web experiences also have multiple apps, each with their own set of core functionality, that work together to improve their customers' overall user experiences. We talk about this in depth in a separate article about how to approach “app constellations.”

The features of your app will also likely take advantage of device-specific functionality provided by smartphones, tablets, and similar devices. Some of the questions you'll need to answer regarding device functionality include:

  • Will it need to access the device’s GPS location?
  • Does it integrate with a user’s calendar or access their contacts?
  • Does it need camera functionality or access to the user’s camera roll?
  • Can it be used offline?
  • Will it use notifications?

These aspects of your app will likely not be accounted for in your web experience. Just because you can include them in your app, however, doesn't mean you should. Always assess how and why the user will interact with these features. If they don't further the user's efforts to accomplish their main goals, then there's no reason to include them.

Your App May Change Your Web Experience

As your app progresses, you have a good opportunity to go back to your website or web app and examine its features, content, and the overall experience. You may find that having a native app can cause your web experience to evolve. For example, you might want your website to direct people to your app depending on what device they are using or when they are trying to use a certain feature. You should also add messaging throughout your website about your new app. Apple and Google both have marketing materials to help promote an app, including badges or app banners.

Once your app is released it's important to continue to measure, analyze, and iterate on what is working. You may decide that a feature you thought would appeal to users on the app is something web users would enjoy as well. Make sure you keep in mind the unique use cases for apps and consider that the features you include in your app may not work exactly the same for your web experience.

Concluding Note

Moving from a website to an app isn't a matter of replicating what you already have on the web. Properly crafted apps go beyond using off-the-shelf tools to quickly convert a website into an app. Take the time to really understand how people are using your existing site and how an app could help both you and your users. If done correctly, the app should feel like it fits seamlessly into your user experience.

Megan is a tea-loving user experience designer focused on making apps simple and intuitive to use. She has a knack for naming pets and identifying UX patterns.

You made it this far so...