Web developer vs. app developer explained

As you may know, web development and mobile app development involve creating and upkeeping software, but the main difference is the platform on which that software is built.

As both a mobile application and frontend web development service provider, we know firsthand all the distinctions in the processes of website development and mobile app development.

Today, we will discuss the characteristics and skills required for web and mobile app developers, the current job outlook for both professions, and what you do on a daily basis if you're a web developer vs. an app developer.

Make sure you also check out the other comparison article, this time on differences and similarities between a web developer vs. front-end developer. Or you may be interested in the overview of the best front-end frameworks of today. Either way, check out our blog. We have lots of goodies there.

Mobile development

Overall, mobile app developers create software that then runs on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Mobile development differs in many ways from creating websites since you must consider in the first place in your project the screen sizes and resolutions of different mobile devices, as well as their unique features and capabilities, such as cameras and GPS.

What do app developers do?

Mobile application developers design, build and maintain mobile apps for various mobile operating systems such as iOS or Android. Their primary daily tasks and responsibilities include designing and developing new features, testing and debugging code, and working with app stores to publish and update apps.

Let's delve more into what else app developers do. So, they also take the lead in the following:

  • Writing clean, well-documented, and, most importantly, efficient code;
  • Collaborating with designers and project managers to understand app requirements;
  • Utilizing various programming languages and development tools to build and test mobile apps;
  • Troubleshooting any issues that arise during the development process;
  • Participating in code reviews and ensuring that the app meets quality standards;
  • Working with back-end developers to integrate the app with web services and databases.

Overall, mobile application developers' duties involve creating and maintaining mobile apps that are functional, visually appealing, and user-friendly.

What are the characteristics of good web application development?

Several characteristics are considered essential for satisfactory web application development:

  • Responsive design - a good web application should be able to adapt to different screen sizes and devices, providing a consistent and user-friendly experience across all platforms.
  • Performance - it should be fast and efficient, with minimal load times and no lag when navigating between pages.
  • Security - robust app security measures should be in place to protect user data and prevent unauthorized access.
  • Scalability - being able to handle an increasing number of users and traffic without experiencing performance issues or downtime.
  • Accessibility - the app should conform to web accessibility standards to accommodate users with disabilities.
  • Maintainability - a good web application should be easy to maintain and update, with clean and well-organized code that is easy to understand and modify.
  • Usability - with a clear, easy-to-understand, and intuitive interface that guides the user through the functionality.
  • Mobile-friendliness - a good web application should also be mobile-friendly, with a layout optimized for small screens and touch-based interactions.
  • Search Engine Optimization, making it easy to find and index by search engine bots, resulting in higher visibility on the web.

Skills needed for app development

Since mobile app development requires a specific set of skills to create high-quality, functional apps that work well on different mobile devices and operating systems, if you want to become an app developer, you should know:

Programming languages. Proficiency in programming languages such as Swift, Java, and Kotlin, which are used to create apps for iOS and Android platforms, is a must.

Mobile app design principles. Then comes a good understanding of mobile app design principles, including user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design, to build visually appealing apps that are easy to navigate.

Cross-platform development. This means creating apps that work well on multiple mobile devices and operating systems.

Testing and debugging. You need to ensure your app is free of bugs and performance issues.

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Developers must be familiar with APIs to connect the apps to the server or other external sources.

Security. Utilizing mobile app security best practices and the latest encryption techniques is critical if you want to protect user data and maintain the app's integrity.

Other skills include familiarity with third-party libraries, SDKs, and mobile app distribution channels (Apple's App Store and Google Play).

Becoming an app developer

If you want to become a successful mobile app developer, here are some steps you can take:

  • Learn the basics of programming, such as variables, functions, and logic. Start with a high-level programming language (Python, for example) before moving on to app development-specific languages like Swift, Java, or Kotlin;
  • Study how to create a user interface, work with databases, and implement common features like push notifications and in-app purchases;
  • Get familiar with the major mobile platforms, such as iOS and Android, and their respective development environments (Xcode and Android Studio);
  • Practice building your own mobile apps by following tutorials, working on personal projects, or participating in hackathons;
  • Get a degree or certification in computer science, software engineering, or a related field (it's not required, though);
  • Get an entry-level mobile app developer job or just an internship to gain professional experience and build your portfolio;
  • Participate in online communities, such as forums, blogs, and social media groups, to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies in mobile app development.

Job outlook and compensation for app developers

Mobile app development is now more in-demand than ever, with an estimated 23-25% growth from 2021 to 2031, states the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This growth rate is much faster than the average for all occupations, and the increasing usage of mobile devices and the growing demand for mobile apps across various industries are what's driving it.

As for compensation, the average salary for mobile app developers varies depending on location, experience, and specific skills. According to Payscale, the average salary for a mobile app developer in the United States is around $77822 per year. However, more experienced mobile app developers can earn significantly more, with some earning over $129,000 per year.

Mobile app developer's average salary
Mobile app developer's average salary

In addition, other compensation for mobile app developers may come in the form of stock options, bonuses, or profit-sharing. Some developers also earn money from in-app purchases or from advertising within their apps.

It's worth noting that the compensation for mobile app developers can also depend on the type of company they work for, the size of the company, and the location. For example, mobile app developers working for large tech companies in urban areas tend to earn more than those working for small companies in rural areas.

Web development overview

Web developers, on the other hand, are the ones responsible for creating and maintaining websites. In general, they build the front-end side of the website, which is the part that users interact with, and also take charge of the backend - the part that handles data and logic.

Skills needed for web development

Web development requires a specific set of skills in order to create high-quality, functional websites that work well on different devices and browsers. Some of them include:

  • Programming languages (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) to create the frontend of a website. Knowledge of backend programming languages like PHP, Python, Ruby, or Java is also commendable;
  • Web design principles (layout, typography, and color theory);
  • Responsive design - how to create websites optimized for different screen sizes and resolutions that work well on various devices and browsers;
  • Familiarity with CMS (Content management systems) - web developers should be familiar with CMS like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal;
  • Web development frameworks like React, AngularJS, and VueJS.

They also share some other skills with mobile app developers, such as testing and debugging, Agile development methodology, familiarity with APIs, and security.

Becoming a web developer

If you are a web developer, your daily tasks may include working with clients to understand their needs and requirements, designing and implementing new features, troubleshooting and debugging code, and testing and maintaining websites.

Similarly to mobile app development, the first thing one should do is learn the basics. In this case, it can also mean starting with a high-level programming language and then moving to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

The next step is learning the basics of web development, web design principles, and how to implement common features such as forms and e-commerce. Get familiar with the major web development tools - learn about the different web development tools, such as editors and integrated development environments (IDEs), and how to use them effectively.

Remember to practice building your own websites by following tutorials, working on personal projects, or participating in hackathons.

Front-end developer vs. back-end developer

Front-end developers and back-end developers are both involved in the process of creating and maintaining websites and web-based applications, but they have separate responsibilities within different areas of web development.

Front-end developers, also known as client-side developers, focus on the user-facing part of a website or application, which is the part that users interact with. They use languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create the layout, design, and functionality of a website. They are also responsible for ensuring that a website is aesthetically pleasing, easy to navigate, and responsive to different devices and screen sizes.

Back-end developers, also known as server-side developers, focus on the behind-the-scenes part of a website or application, which is the part that handles data and logic. They, in turn, use languages such as PHP, Python, Ruby, and Java to create the servers, databases, and APIs that power a website or application and are responsible for ensuring that a website or application is fast, secure, and able to handle large amounts of data.

If you're looking for similarities between front-end and back-end developers, one of the main ones is that they both need to understand web development principles and best practices. They also need to be able to work well in a team environment and be able to communicate effectively with other members of the development team.

Job outlook and compensation for web developers

According to the BLS, the job outlook for web developers is also quite positive, with a projected growth rate of around 23% from 2021 to 2031, making both mobile app and web development one of the fastest-growing among all occupations.

As for compensation, the average salary for web developers also varies depending on factors like skills, location, and experience. According to Payscale, the average salary for a web developer in the United States is around $61,774 per year, with top earners getting over $91,000 per year.

Web developer's average salary
Web developer's average salary

Key takeaways - web development vs. app development

Here are some of our key takeaways on the differences between web development and mobile app development. First and foremost, the platform. The former creates software we use in browsers and the latter for smartphones and tablets.

Don't forget about skills and different specializations, programming languages, and frameworks.

When it comes to the job outlook, both positions are experiencing very high demand, but mobile app developers generally earn more.

Overall, if you want to know who to hire, first establish what type of product you wish to develop, and if you're going to choose a career, analyze the day-to-day tasks and prospects of both professions to select the right one for you. Whatever your goal is, Merge is happy to help.

Serhii Hyliuk

Head of Growth and Customer Success

I'm interested in design, new tech, fashion, exploring new places and languages. My mission is to make our clients happy.

I'm interested in design, new tech, fashion, exploring new places and languages. My mission is to make our clients happy.

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