A mobile cloud application is a software program that is designed to be accessed over the Internet by many types of portable computing devices.
Mobile cloud apps and mobile Web apps are similar. They both run on servers external to the mobile device, they both store data externally and they are both accessed over the Internet with a browser. However, it is often said that while all cloud apps are Web apps -- not all Web apps are cloud apps. Simply put, not all mobile Web apps can run in a virtual environment without being re-engineered. This is because a Web app may have originally been written to run and store data on a dedicated physical server in a data center. A cloud app, on the other hand, will always be written to live on virtual servers in a distributed, multi-tenant architecture and store data in the cloud.
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Mobile cloud and Web apps are both very different from native mobile apps. Native apps in mobile software development run on one particular mobile device or platform and are downloaded and installed on the mobile device. The challenge of writing native mobile apps is that developers must create three different versions of the same mobile app if they want it to be used by iOS, Android and Windows devices. Because mobile cloud apps are not downloaded, developers can just write one version of their mobile app and any device with a browser and Internet connection can use it. The challenge becomes writing and managing application programming interfaces (APIs) that use loosely coupled cloud services in the most cost-effective manner.
See also: native cloud application