Updated: June 6, 2016

Web Apps vs. Desktop Apps: Why you Should Build a Responsive Web App
Photo Cred: www.Tkxel.com

If you are building a desktop app for your service, this question will come up sooner or later. Building a desktop app is indeed longer and more complicated. Regardless of what your app does, just getting it up and running on different computers with different operating systems is already quite a challenge–not to mention that you’ll probably want to go for a Windows and a Mac version. Also, as far as distribution is concerned, many people will tell you that users are reluctant to download apps on their desktop.

Should you build a desktop app or web app for your service? Of course, it totally depends on what you are doing. Here are some insights–you may or may not agree with them–that helped us make our choice. To give you a little bit of context, let’s say that user experience, and security and privacy, are top priorities in every decision we make. Here are the four criteria we used to make our decision here at Dashlane:

Convenience

With HTML5 and JavaScript, you can create very powerful web apps that have great user interfaces –just looking at how you can add people to circles in Google+ is sufficient to make the point. But at the end of the day, every web app is running in a web browser and is limited by browser induced constraints. Size is dictated by the size of the browser window, even if the app needs much less space on the desktop. This is really important as people use more and more services that run in the background. No matter how good a web app is, it still has to run in a browser tab.

Trust

People feel more secure about sensitive data when it is displayed in a desktop app. We have conducted focus groups and A/B testing studies in order to find out the best way to build a relationship based on trust, and it turned out that users felt a bit scared every time they saw their personal data displayed in a web browser. After you have downloaded and installed an app, it kind of becomes yours. And if you want to keep your data offline with nothing on the cloud, it is possible. When you are on a website, you are the guest, not the host, and therefore you don’t feel secure or at home.

Distribution

Until recently, I used to think that download was a real barrier to adoption. But today, I am not so sure about that anymore. First of all, people are now used to applications as a concept. Certainly, the mobile app stores have played a great role. Now people really enjoy the convenience of applications and are ok with downloading if it can improve their experience. I am sure that being in the Mac App Store has been a tremendous asset to companies like Evernote and Reeder.

Development

This is where the tradeoff resides. If you want to have a desktop app with great user experience, it’s going to cost time and money. This is a big decision to make. Because even though there are lots of advantages, you should not develop a desktop app just for the sake of it. Think carefully about who your users are, and what matters to them. Also, because people are more nomadic than ever, you must make sure that you can provide your service everywhere, and for that, well… you may have to build a web app anyway 🙂

To learn more about the development of Dashlane, read these related articles on our blog!

The 3 Simple Reasons Why Dashlane Uses React

How Dashlane Improve Code Quality with TypeScript