I am a web developer. I have been developing web sites professionally for 15+ years using ColdFusion, SQL Server, and jQuery.

I am doing a project for a client that uses the above technologies. The site has a mobile facet too. For that, I am using jQuery Mobile. The site enables retail store personnel to gather a store customer's preferences using any smart phone or tablet. The store personnel just needs to access a special link via a QR code and a login. Anyone can easily access the site from a PC's browser, too.

Some sources suggest that mobile apps must be downloaded and installed using a third party, such as from Google, Amazon, or Apple. Others sources suggest that any information designed for use on mobile device is a mobile app.

Regarding the site that is specifically designed for use by mobile devices that extensively uses jQuery Mobile, is this a "web site" or a "mobile app"? What is the "proper" description for this type of site?

My customer insists that it is one and not the other. I insist that it is the other and not the one.

Can you help me clarify this?

  • Do you access Facebook on your mobile device via the website or the app? Do you access Twitter via the website or the app?
    – MrWhite
    Nov 24, 2012 at 22:44
  • @W3d's questions bring up an interesting niggle here that builds on my questioning of the topic in my answer. What people call a service's "site" isn't always quite such. For example, when Twitter launched one of their redesigns, the site was actually just as much an app as say, the one on your iPhone. (I'm not sure if this remains true with the latest design; there've been a lot of architectural changes since.)
    – Su'
    Nov 24, 2012 at 23:21
  • 1
    Some Apps are just a front end to a mobile website. But there is still a distinction as to whether it is installable and advertised in the relevant app stores. Also a true app uses interface elements of the device and can have better integration.
    – JamesRyan
    Nov 26, 2012 at 17:27

3 Answers 3


Is there some reason this is important enough to have become an argument? (eg. Client is needing to "justify" budget to someone above him, does it change your billing, etc.) The lines have gotten blurred enough in some use cases that it's pretty pointless, really.

If I had to play along, I'd actually say neither and call it a "web app" where, as Nathaniel mentions, I see "mobile app" generally being used more in terms of native/installed applications. Now, anyway. When things like LocalStorage were less common, the distinction probably wouldn't have been as strong.

  • I think you make the best point, that the line between web app and web site have been recently blurred. Thanks for your answer!
    – Evik James
    Nov 30, 2012 at 15:35

In general, an app is a separate application that must be installed. For example, the programs you find in Apple's App Store. A website, on the other hand, is accessible via a web browser.

Website: http://m.facebook.com

App: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/facebook/id284882215?mt=8

  • Your answer is the obvious answer. I'd really like to know what the real difference is, other than one MUST be partially downloaded. Thanks.
    – Evik James
    Nov 30, 2012 at 15:34

Although you are developing for mobile web, for sure it's a site not an app.

Apps are actual applications that are downloaded and installed on your mobile device, rather than being rendered within a browser.

For a more comperative explanation please refer to: http://hswsolutions.com/services/mobile-web-development/mobile-website-vs-apps/


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