In response to numerous questions from clients regarding the actual differences between a website, a web application, and a mobile app, we thought a quick primer would be useful:
A website consists of static, manually-updated information.
A web application allows the user to interact with the web site, eg. to make a purchase, like PayPal or Amazon. A web application relies on a database for content and can be accessed from any device that has a web browser.
A mobile website is a website or web application that displays nicely on a mobile device. The site is accessed via the web browser of the device. You can still access some phone specific features, like calling a number from your phone or geo-location services.
A mobile application, sometimes referred to as a native application, is something you download onto your phone or device( via the Apple or Google Play store, for example) to perform a task or provide a function.
When deciding which approach, be sure to consider your specific business needs. If you primarily want to communicate a message, a mobile website may be the best first step.
A mobile app makes sense if you are targeting regular users, you want to offer them customization, you want them to be able to use the content offline, or the content requires complex calculations (ie. for gaming).
Since the cost of developing a mobile app is typically greater than that of a mobile website, consider if a mobile website will meet your business requirements, as compared to a mobile app.