Dedicated App or Mobile Website?

You may be prompted, left, to open a website's dedicated app, right, when visiting with a browser.

Q. When researching a topic on a website, I frequently get a pop-up alert that suggests I use that same site’s mobile app for iOS. What is the downside of using the site’s app? Does the app track personal information?

A. Using a company’s own smartphone app instead of its mobile website may have some clear advantages, but it varies by app. As for tracking personal information, that also depends on the company that made the app — and the data it declares it will collect from you in the user agreement, device permissions and terms of service. So read those carefully before installing anything.

Well-designed mobile apps are often faster than mobile sites, as they are designed for specific operating systems. Some apps can display content more uniformly than what a mobile browser may render. Other typical benefits of apps include notifications, automatic updates and stored content you can see offline. However, apps can be buggy at times, and some may use more of your network bandwidth than you realize if the app is set to download new content in the background.

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Credit...The New York Times

In comparison, mobile websites usually take up less space on your phone than an app. Mobile sites may deposit tracking cookies and store data of their own on your device. With a mobile site, you don’t have to install updates from an app store each time the developer adds new features. However, unless you’ve saved some pages for offline viewing, you need an internet connection to see the mobile site.

If you are not sure which version you want to use, check the app’s size and permissions requirements before you install it to make sure you are comfortable with the program’s access to your device. You can always uninstall the app if you don’t like it.

App icons on the home screen are handy shortcuts. If you prefer using a mobile website instead, you can save shortcut icons for your favorite sites on both the Android and the iOS systems.


Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology to techtip@nytimes.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

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