Key differences between SaaS vs Traditional App Development

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Author Scott Whatley
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In software development, there are a number of applications that can be developed. These are traditional software, web applications, and SaaS (Software as a Service) applications. Each application has specific features and requirements, allowing it to be used in different use cases.

SaaS app development is a process of building cloud-based applications delivered over the Internet. These apps are typically subscription-based and offer benefits, including accessibility, automatic innovation, scalability, and reliability. So, let’s dive into this topic and understand how app development for SaaS differs from traditional app development.

Software Development and Types

Applications can be broadly divided into two main categories: native applications and web applications.

Native Apps

These are specific applications like iOS, Android, Windows etc., designed for a specific platform or device OS installed directly on the device, they can access all the features of the device, like camera, GPS etc. and use it installed and operated offline. They offer the most user-friendly experience. Examples include apps like Facebook, Twitter and Angry Birds.

Web Apps

These are applications that access the Internet through browsers. They do not depend on the OS of the device. Because they operate on remote servers, web applications can be accessed from anywhere on any device with a browser and Internet access. It does not need to be installed. This is the category to which SaaS app development services belong. Examples include apps like Gmail, Google Docs, and Trello.

Within these broad categories, apps can be further classified based on factors like:

  • Intended users – consumer apps or business apps
  • Functionalities offered – utility apps, productivity apps, gaming apps etc
  • Development and distribution model – as we’ll see next with the SaaS model

Understanding SaaS App Development

SaaS or Software-as-a-Service refers to a web app model where, instead of downloading software, users access an application over the internet via a subscription model. Some key aspects:

  1. Web-based access. SaaS apps run on remote servers and are accessed via web browsers. No installation required.
  2. Subscription model. Users pay a recurring fee, often monthly or annually, to use the app.
  3. Multi-tenant architecture. A single instance of the app serves multiple customers. Each customer’s data is isolated.
  4. Centralized updating. The vendor handles all maintenance and upgrades on the central server. Users get the updates directly.

As a model, SaaS provides many benefits like lower user costs, easier maintenance, accessibility across devices etc. Examples of popular SaaS apps are Salesforce CRM, Slack, Dropbox, Zoom etc.

The Distinctive SaaS App Development Process

Developing SaaS apps comes with some unique considerations compared to traditional apps. Let’s look at some key differences:

Deployment Model

Regular apps are distributed to user devices via app stores or direct downloads. SaaS apps are centrally hosted on the vendor’s servers. Users access them over the Internet without installing anything.

This centralized deployment means developers must build in robustness, high availability and failover capabilities in the SaaS architecture to maintain uptime. Also, data isolation needs to be robust to protect customer data privacy.

Maintenance and Updating

For native apps, developers build and users download periodic updates for new features, patches etc. With SaaS apps, all changes and upgrades happen centrally on the vendor side. Since users directly access the central instance, upgrades are immediately available to all with no action required.

So, developers need to plan workflows and testing to ensure seamless deployments of updates without disrupting service. Automated testing and staging environments help.

Scalability and Performance

An on-demand usage model means SaaS apps must be designed to scale up or down quickly to handle customer demand fluctuations. Optimizing performance for potentially thousands of users accessing simultaneously is crucial.

Factors like server capacity, caching strategies, CDNs, and database optimization need consideration from the early stages of SaaS app development.

Analytics and Monitoring

Understanding usage patterns is key to improving SaaS apps over time. Developers must incorporate analytics tools to gather usage telemetry, identify popular features, monitor bottlenecks etc.

Many SaaS vendors also track customer-specific usage and trends to customize onboarding, suggest upgrades and provide data-driven support.

Regular analysis of app performance, customer feature requests and market trends inform the product roadmap.

Integration and Workflows

SaaS apps rarely function in isolation. They must integrate and exchange data with other systems used by customers, such as CRMs (customer relationship management), ERPs (enterprise resource planning), payment gateways, etc.

Developers must build seamless integrations, Open APIs, and automation flows to connect the SaaS app with external apps as part of existing customer workflows.


When discussing SaaS app development, security is always at the forefront of the discussion. It is an essential requirement rather than merely an extra. Maintaining the highest level of security is a must in a cloud-based setting where data travels across networks and is stored off-site.

Here, gaining consumers’ confidence is equally as important as protecting the data. The foundation is encryption, which applies to data in transit as well as at rest. But that’s only the beginning. Part of the package includes regular security assessments, adherence to global regulations like GDPR (General data protection regulation), and strong access control systems. Compared to traditional app development, where local data storage frequently reduces some dangers inherent in a cloud context, this approach to security is slightly different.

Cost Structure

SaaS apps function on a subscription model, unlike conventional apps, which frequently have a one-time creation and purchase approach. In the long term, this strategy could be more financially viable. 

This equates to a steady supply of income for new ventures. Building a solid, scalable infrastructure requires an upfront investment, but recurring expenses are dispersed. This also implies that, in contrast to conventional software sales, SaaS developers must consistently provide value to their consumers in order to maintain subscriptions.

Customization and Control

SaaS apps excel in this area because they offer control and flexibility. These applications can provide a degree of customization that traditional apps find difficult to match because of their cloud-based architecture. Users anticipate that the app will adapt to their requirements, whether it means changing settings, adding or removing connectors, or customizing dashboards.

This adaptability also applies to control. Without complicated installs or annoying updates, users may adjust their usage and add or remove features. In contrast to typical app development, where updates are frequently rare and demand more work from the user, this degree of user control is a major shift.

Agile Methodology in SaaS Development

SaaS development and agile methods go along like clockwork. With its flexibility and iterative structure, this method is ideal for the ever-changing SaaS application landscape. Little, regular updates? Verify. Quickly adjusting to comments from users? Verify. Ongoing development? Indeed.

This is in contrast to traditional app development’s sometimes inflexible waterfall methodology. Developers in the SaaS world create apps in sprints, continuously improving and adjusting them. This maintains the app current while also closely coordinating development with user demands, which is essential in the quick-paced digital world of today.

User-Centric Design in SaaS

In the realm of SaaS applications, the user is king. Improving user experience is the primary consideration in every design choice. This goes beyond aesthetics to include the development of practical, user-friendly apps that address real-world issues.

Serving a broad user base with varying levels of computer savvy and expectations is a problem. This user-centric strategy includes responsive design, customization choices, and guaranteeing consistency across various platforms and devices. SaaS app development differs from traditional app creation in that it prioritizes the user experience, whereas, in traditional app development, form generally follows utility.


Developing SaaS apps entails more than just developing standard apps with a cloud-based twist. It’s an entirely different animal. SaaS app development is defined by its emphasis on security, subscription-based pricing model, unmatched degree of customization and control, agile development methodology, and user-centric design philosophy.

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