Web applications or Web Apps have become the new norm for everything online. Just a decade ago, in the age of desktop based programs, who would have thought of a time when nothing would need to be hosted or managed locally? But that distant possibility has become modern day’s reality where everyday tasks like emailing, messaging, researching, and even activities like shopping have intermingled with client-server based architecture into applications users fondly call web apps. They’re interactive, engaging, and useful. From webmail, wikis, and instant messaging services, to online retail sales and auctions, almost each user demand is being fulfilled through web apps.
But have you ever stopped and wondered what is it that gives web apps their power? Exactly how are web apps different from traditional desktop based applications apart from a sleeker front-end? How can a user new to the concept find the right web app for his purpose?
Through this article, we’re trying to answer all these questions and more.
What makes web apps appealing?
Over the past few years, the market has seen a shift of trends as far as mobile app development is concerned. While native mobile apps are still popular, web apps that run directly in browsers have captured everyone’s attention. Currently, there are thousands of interactive web apps out there targeted at solving various purposes. From everyday home users to professionals like web-designers and web-developers, people are raving about the utility and the ease of operation web apps bring with them.
Popular researchers have listed the following key factors which make web apps alluring:
- It’s easier to create web apps using one stack (HTML/CSS/JS) and frameworks like React, Angular, and Aurelia
- Web apps do not require an app store submission
- Most web apps run in all browsers for all devices from desktops to Smartphones
Moreover, with mobile browsers supporting features like geo-location, vibration, microphone access, and many upcoming specs for HTML/DOM APIs like device orientation, people prefer to use their hand-held devices for everything. So much so that vendors of popular native apps are rolling out web app alternatives. The time for the creation of an ecosystem where developers have the freedom to choose which type of app best suits their project doesn’t seem too far away.
Business Benefits of web apps
From a business point of view, web apps offer the following significant advantages:
- They are cost effective to develop – Businesses don’t need to develop different versions of the same application optimized for different operating systems since all components of the app are online. All that needs to be done is browser testing.
- They are easily customizable – All the user is concerned with is the application’s front end. So businesses only need to update its look and feel or presentation to suit users of different ages and preferences.
- They make it possible to capture a wider audience – Since the devices used to access web apps cover a broad range including PDAs, mobiles, tablets, as well as desktops / laptops, a much broader range of users can be targeted and captured with such apps.
- They offer better interoperability – It is far easier to integrate a web app with another than it is to make a desktop application communicate with another. Web-based architecture facilitates rapid integration of enterprise systems while improving workflow and enhancing business processes.
- They’re scalable and more secure – For web apps that need more power, only the server hardware needs upgrading making them extremely scalable. Also, since such apps are deployed on dedicated servers monitored by experienced administrators, they are far more secure than desktop applications which are managed at the client directly.
Given such key benefits that web apps bring to the table, it is no wonder businesses across the globe prefer pumping huge money into web app development.
Finding Your Ideal web app
Deciding that you want to go with a web app to complete a particular task is only half the battle won. The other tougher half involves picking the perfect web app that will help you fulfill your goal with minimum or no hassle. And believe us when we say this, finding your ideal web app from among the huge variety available online is quite an uphill task. Especially when there are tons of web apps built to the same end.
So how do you do it? Just keep the following pointers in mind:
- It should have an easy to use interface
- It should help you complete your task in the shortest time and with minimum taps / clicks
- It should either be free or very cost-effective
- It should be accessible on different devices and browsers, example iOS – Safari as well as Android – Chrome, etc.
- It should take up minimum device resources
- Support for in-app suggestions is good to have
- The technology stack behind the app should be one that stays relevant for at a couple of years to come
Finding a web app that stays true to all the criteria mentioned above though difficult isn’t impossible. And generally, everything stays good as long as your requirements don’t change drastically and the web app you’re using continues to fulfill all your needs. But, what happens when either your requirements expand, or the capabilities of your chosen web app seem limited?
Why are users compelled to look for web app alternatives?
When user requirements change from a fixed set to a wider one that includes 3 or 4 more needs, the app they’ve gotten used to might fall short of the occasion. In such cases, users are compelled to move on to more advanced web apps having more features while also retaining the capabilities they fell in love with originally.
To understand the point better, consider a simple scenario wherein you’re trying to plan your travel to an exotic destination. Imagine that after researching online and reading a lot of user reviews you pick a great travel planner web app and use it to materialize your plans successfully. Once that trip is done, you don’t feel the need to upgrade to a more advanced app and in fact, don’t use this one much either. Now for your next trip, you need ideas along with relevant flight and hotel details (and booking support) and you also wish to carry out detailed comparisons between different destinations. Since your earlier set of requirements was quite limited, the app you needed at that time was very basic. However, now you need something better. You need an app that doesn’t just show you a set of destinations to pick from (depending upon your preferences), but also show you available hotels and flight combinations for that destination all within the dates and budget limits you’re targeting.
Obviously, your current app cannot do all that. So you start looking for a new web app. Here you could opt for one of two approaches – research for the perfect web app from scratch; or find for an alternative web app, one that includes the basic features you originally liked, along with more. Getting the drift?
If you are, you’ll agree that this opens up an entirely new avenue – web apps that suggest alternative web apps. For clarity’s sake, let’s call these alternative suggesting web apps, tools. There are a lot of tools and techniques available online which allow users to search for the perfect alternatives to particular web apps. Let us take a look at some of these.
There are a lot of tools and techniques available online which allow users to search for the perfect alternatives to particular web apps. supermonitoring.com/blog/h… via @supermonitoring
Searching for the best alternatives to web apps
Given the vast variety of web apps available in the open online market, it is quite unlikely that there is only one app for one purpose. There are several apps that achieve the same purpose but differ in prices, features, performance, interfaces, etc.; and when you begin searching for a web app alternative, you might find one that suits your purpose and pocket more than the one you’re currently using.
There are a number of ways that can help you find the best alternatives to web apps:
This one is obvious. Google has the answer to everything, literally. So when in need for an alternative web app, just enter what the app does in the search field or use “[app name] alternatives” as the search keyword and Google should throw some pretty decent suggestions at you. You could also type the phrase “[app name] VS” and look at the suggestions for apps that come closest in functionality.
Sometimes, the Wikipedia page for the app you’re currently using has a ‘Category Page’ section that lists apps similar to the current one. That can be helpful.
Over the past few years, Quora has emerged as one of the best place for users to directly ask questions to other users about pretty much anything under the sun. Simply post a question on Quora asking “What are the best alternatives to…” and you should start receiving suggestions soon enough. This question is in fact one of the most popular queries on Quora.
Facebook and LinkedIn are awesome forums to join groups of people like-minded to you. Once you become a member of a group, you can ask people there about alternatives to the web app you’re targeting. However, these social groups come with a minor drawback. Before posing a query on them, you should perform a thorough search. Questions like “alternatives to [app name]” are quite common and it is very likely that someone might have already asked for an alternative to the app you’re going to ask about. Group members don’t appreciate repeat questions.
A lot of dedicated websites have emerged which help you easily find web app alternatives as well as detailed information about such alternatives. Some of the best ones are:
- AlternativeTo.net – With an extensive database that includes information about almost 65000 web apps, this approach to finding great software prevents you from settling for anything less than the best. AlternativeTo.net lets you easily search for alternatives to some of the most popular commercial web apps like Adobe Photoshop, MS Word, MS Visio, AutoCAD, and free web apps like YouTube, Skype, Google Chrome, etc.
- SimilarSites.com – A cool and simple way to discover the best websites and alternatives on the web, this tool helps you find related sites and topics similar to the ones you love. It offers website recommendations for similar pages while intelligently giving you more options.
- Alternative.to – One of the most comprehensive sources to find alternatives to products, places, solutions, answers, and pretty much anything – including web apps, this tool even lets you compare the various alternatives and choose the best one.
While all the above methods are equally good to pick competent alternatives, it’s important to compare all available options and satisfy yourself completely before making a final choice. When subscribing to a particular service or tool, once you attach yourself to a provider, sometimes it becomes really hard to migrate to another because of complexity issues.
A Sneak Peek into some of the best web apps Around
Now for the fun part! It’s time to weigh how web apps actually fare when in action. We’ve been scouting the Internet for the most useful and user-friendly web apps for Web Designers, Web Developers and Internet Marketers. The following 10 beauties are just a sample of 100+ applications we have reviewed.
Do dedicate a bit of your time to reading about them and if possible, play around with them whenever you can just to get an idea of all that web apps are capable of achieving.
- Photopea – editing PSD files
- Random User Generator
- RealEye – user eye tracking with a webcam
- ClippingMagic – removing backgrounds from images
- Snip.ly – URL shortening with custom CTAs
- TypeWonder – previewing fonts on a website
- Pixlr – graphic editor
- Criticue – website reviews exchange
- BananaTag – email tracking
- Yourbrowser.is – detecting user browser details
Other hit names that we didn’t include in this list are Evernote, Slack, Twitter, Dropbox, etc. which are no less popular and continue to play the part of industry titans.
A few final words
The mesmerizing world of web apps holds a lot of promise for almost every project and need you can think of and there are tons of options to choose from. So before you decide to write off a task as undoable, look around and try to find a web app which can do it for you. If you find one you like but can’t use for some reason, rest assured that somewhere there is an alternative to help you out.
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