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Web Application Examples and Definition for Beginners

February 25, 2021

This might come as a surprise to you: web apps are nothing unusual but rather ubiquitous. Gmail, WordPress, Amazon, Slack, Trello, even Twitter are web application examples, to name but a few. Having said that, we must admit the concept “web application” or “web app” was not rigidly defined, but seems to result from the dynamic nature of web development throughout its course of history.

What is a web application? 

A web application is generally viewed as a computer program that always sticks to the web browsers and helps you accomplish a number of certain tasks. It runs on a web server that responds to any requests from you as clients. This is also known as the “client-server model”.

We often use the term web app to differentiate it from the software programs that run locally on operating systems such as Windows 10, iOS, or Android, or “native apps”/“platform-specific apps”. Some web application examples will be given in the following sections.

To sharpen our understanding of web applications, let’s try contrasting them with websites and native apps.

Web applications vs websites

Strictly speaking, web applications are indeed websites. Both are built with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other web technologies. Users access them both via web browsers. 

But many people want to emphasize the difference between these two terms, and it boils down to interactivity and functionality. While websites are more like collections of static HTML pages, web apps provide their users with a wide range of task-performing tools. Or in other words, visitors come to websites to get the information in the forms of text and images that can hardly be manipulated. Web applications, on the other hand, allow us to create, read, update and delete data (also known as CRUD). 

Slack, an example of web application
Slack is an example of web applications.

Some experts, however, question the distinguishability of static and dynamic web pages because today, even the dullest blog pages also offer us some kinds of interactions such as upvote, comment or subscribe. It is thus possible to say that website vs web application could be a false dichotomy. All in all, we should bear in mind that there is no fixed, uncontroversial line between websites and web apps. 

See also: Top 7 Web Development Languages To Use In 2021

Web applications vs desktop apps 

We can easily name some famous desktop apps or native apps for desktop computers: Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word, Skype, Outlook, TeamViewer, and so on. These apps differ from web apps in a variety of aspects:

Installation and updates: 

In order to use desktop apps, we need to download and install them on our computers. Web apps are much more simple to use. Just go to the website address on your browsers (Chrome, Firefox, etc) and you can use their services immediately.

Web apps are automatically updated. It’s pretty convenient, although you may not be able to access it when the server is under maintenance. Desktop apps, however, require some manual handling from you. At some point, you will be asked to upgrade the program. It might take several minutes, even hours, of downloading and upgrading, maybe rebooting your computer, too.

Desktop apps are those that need to be downloaded and installed in your devices.

Connectivity: 

A stable internet connection is a must when you use web apps. On the contrary, desktop apps can work offline. 

Platform dependency: 

Web apps are not limited to devices or operating systems. As long as there’s a modern web browser, you can definitely use web apps. This does not apply to desktop apps.

Security: 

Native apps run locally, and they typically interact with device-specific resources, such as cameras, local documents, and so forth. But safety and security are guaranteed. Web apps could not outweigh native apps in this regard, and thus they are often not allowed to access local resources.

Web apps vs mobile apps, or in other words, web-based apps vs native apps for mobile devices.

In the mobile world, web-based apps are usually inferior to native apps. Being built specifically to suit a particular operating system, be it Android or iOS, and are able to access native components, such as camera, GPS, accelerometer, or face ID/fingerprint, native apps surpass web apps in many ways:

  • Speed: Native apps are faster and could handle much more complicated tasks. 
  • Connectivity: Even without the internet connection, native apps can still function at any time, anywhere. 
  • Security: Since web apps often go with browsers, their safety and security are not always ensured. Native apps, with the support of the screening process by AppStore or Google Play, are relatively more advanced in this regard.
The word “apps” are often associated with native apps on your smartphones.

It is worth mentioning the drawbacks of native apps, though. The cost of mobile app development is always higher than that of web app development. While the former often start at $10,000, the latter is somewhere around $3000 for the basic product. Also, it takes a much more lengthy and complicated process to build a native app, instead of a web app.

Outstanding web application examples

Just think of the situations when you have to convert a PDF file to JPG format without Adobe Acrobat, or when you want to retouch a photo without Adobe Lightroom installed on your computer. What most people often do is to open the browser, and google “convert pdf to jpg online” or “retouch photo online”. The websites that show up are indeed web application examples. Those are the online tools you use to finish a specific task. With this loose definition, we can see that the internet nowadays revolves around web apps. 

In the following list, we will examine the four remarkable web application examples. We curated this list based on one salient feature: These apps are the alternative to their counterpart desktop apps.

Google Docs Editors

A decade ago, Microsoft Office led the way in the office’s digital support. Almost everybody was familiar with MS Word, MS PowerPoint, or MS Excel. But now the game has changed. When Google stepped in, they introduced Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Sheets as alternatives to those provided by Microsoft. These web-based programs are part of what we call Google Docs Editors, an office suite developed by Google.

But Google’s ambition is much larger than that. Google Docs Editors is just one component of their business-centered service, Google Workspace, or G Suite. Google’s intention is to bring everything back to the web, their main playground. This is evident in that they have made several attempts to promote progressive web apps, something that we will discuss later in this article.  

Modern web-based social media, and the death of Yahoo! Messenger 

Yahoo! Messenger failed due to a lot of causes. Maybe together with the rise of smartphones, people start to use Whatsapp instead.

But Yahoo! Messenger’s prevalent battleground was once desktop computers. Back in the mid of 2000s, in order to use Yahoo! Messenger, we need to download and install it on our computer. But when Facebook and Twitter hit the scene, they made things easier by shifting to websites, and people started to use these web-based social networking apps instead.

Canva, one of the web application examples aiming at visual creators

Despite being not as big as the above brand names, Canva’s ambition in bringing graphic design to websites is undeniable. Founded in 2012, this web application offers the online services of creating posters, presentations, and other sorts of visual content for non-experts. 

Canva is a web application for graphic design

At the moment, Canva cannot surpass Adobe Creative Suite, and maybe it’s also not their business goal. Canva knows that their target audience is those who create visuals occasionally with lower expectations on the quality of their production.

But with the ever-evolving nature of web technologies, we can totally believe that someday the web applications are going to be so powerful that they could facilitate the creation of tailored and sophisticated designs.

Web application examples developed by Designveloper

Our team at Designveloper also has worked with various web application projects, two of which are LuminPDF and CV Simply:

Lumin PDF

With over 22 million users worldwide, Lumin (luminpdf.com) is an online service for PDF file storage and integration. This web app allows users to edit, store, synchronize, and share PDF files across devices. 

CV Simply

CV Simply (cvsimply.com) is an online tool for editing & updating CV. It’s also an open-source of attractive CV templates. 

See also: Top 7 Web Development Companies – January 2021 Reviews

Those are just a few web application examples to give you a clearer picture of what web apps look like. Now, let’s talk about how they are going to evolve in the future.

The future of web applications

Several experts in the industry, such as Stefan Mischook give us a heads-up about the not-so-bright future of mobile app development and design. The polarizing figure Patrick Shyu even says that mobile app development services are dying. This is due to the fact that businesses often have to spend a lot of money on making their product compatible with different platforms.

And because websites are so universal in that they could go across devices and operating systems, experts believe that the solution to the pitfalls of native apps on mobile devices should lie in web technologies. Chances are that some sort of hybrid framework or cross-platform non-native solutions will be the next big thing. Because that is the way you can go universal with one codebase only. And one of the viable solutions that have been put forward is progressive web apps (PWAs). 

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

This is an attempt to bridge the gap between websites and native apps on mobile devices. Despite being built with web technologies, progressive web apps are able to outperform conventional web apps in that they could work offline and could appear on the home screen to be used just like native apps, thanks to additional components called service workers and manifest files.

Starbucks progressive web app

While many people mistake progressive web apps for hybrid apps, they are relatively different. Hybrid apps need to be downloaded and installed inevitably; PWAs can be accessed through browsers, and its manifest file is added to the home screen pretty much like a shortcut. Hybrid apps have access to internal APIs and device-specific resources; PWAs can’t yet. Hybrid apps cannot work offline, but PWAs can. Those are a few differences between them.

In 2016, Google adapted PWA as the new development standard and also partnered with Twitter to develop Twitter Lite, a noteworthy PWA. There is definitely a reason behind this act which you can get to know more about with this post: Why Google advocates Progressive Web Apps.  

If you want to see some excellent case studies of PWAs, check out this post: Best Progressive Web Apps Examples over the Past Decade.

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