Native apps vs. progressive web apps (PWAs): Everything you need to know
Over the years, progressive web apps (PWAs) have entered the market at an increasing rate. These apps combine the functions and design of a native app with the accessibility of a website. Leveraging these collective abilities has led many to believe that PWAs will eventually overtake native apps in popularity. Before we can debate their future viability, we must first understand the difference between native apps and PWAs, along with their respective advantages and disadvantages.
What is a native app?
Native apps are applications that are coded for a specific operating system, software, and/or hardware.
When you think of an app, it is most likely that a native app is what comes to mind. They’re the apps that you’ve been downloading since the introduction of the smartphone. Building a native app with certain software in mind allows the developer to incorporate the unique capabilities of that software. Plus, it allows the app to function optimally on a particular operating system (OS).
What is a progressive web app?
Progressive web apps (PWAs) are applications that are accessed within a user’s browser, and therefore do not require a direct download onto the device.
They are developed as a website but designed like a mobile app. Compared to native apps, PWAs use up much less storage space on a user’s device. Google describes this app type as “reliable, fast, and engaging,” providing developers with a checklist designed to take a “baseline PWA” and develop it into a fully optimized “exemplary PWA”.
PWA vs. native app: Pros and cons
Many developers opt to build a native app due to advantages that cannot be replicated with a PWA, and some go for both. Each developer’s scenario will be different depending on their app’s function, so it’s critical to look at the pros and cons of each app type. This ensures you are spending resources on a solution that will best enhance the user experience.
What are the benefits of a native app?
A major benefit to creating native apps for iOS and Android is that these applications can interact with other native apps. For example, you can allow your app’s users to seamlessly connect with Facebook.
2. Supported tools and frameworks
When developing a native app, you will use a variety of developer-supported tools in conjunction with the relevant OS. In comparison, PWAs don’t have the same options to simplify development and streamline the overall process.
Your native app can integrate payment processing with a user’s app store, making it easier for users to make purchases. If you want to monetize a PWA, you must integrate your own payment system.
4. App store visibility
While both native apps and PWAs can be published on app stores, this process is much more complicated for PWAs. Apple’s App Store requires developers to write a native wrapper that notes your app’s native iOS capabilities. You also have to provide valid proof that you are a legal, registered business. For the Google Play Store, you must similarly use Bubblewrap to package your app for upload.
It’s easier to implement robust security features like two-factor authentication because the app has access to necessary device information. PWAs need their own security certification, while native apps can embed TLS certificates to ensure high security standards are met.
6. Battery consumption
Native apps are efficient when it comes to battery usage simply because they are written in the hardware’s native language.
Disadvantages of native apps
1. Complex development
Developing a native app can be a complex, expensive, and time-consuming process. And when you’re starting from scratch, it can take months — or even years — to get the product up and running.
2. Ongoing maintenance
With constantly changing OS updates and evolving user needs, native apps require more ongoing maintenance to ensure your app is secure, bug free, and best serving your users.
3. Not multi-platform
If you want to create apps for both Android and iOS users, you will have to develop the app twice; in Java (for Android) and Objective C (for iOS). This can increase the time and money needed to launch.
What are the benefits of a progressive web app (PWA)?
1. Loading speed
PWAs use service workers to manage requests, caching, and the storage of shell data. As a result, the app shell will load much faster than a native app. Loading speeds have a huge impact on retention and engagement.
2. User experience
Users are offered a unified experience, with the same interface in both their browser and the app installed on their device. This eliminates any need for the user to learn more than one interface.
3. Development cost
Building a PWA that can operate across multiple platforms and operating systems is cost effective and will dramatically reduce your upfront workload. You’ll also save time and money on developing OS-specific features and updates.
4. Online visibility
We previously mentioned that native apps are easier to place in app stores, but PWAs still have greater visibility due to the nature of their build. Because PWAs are made up of app-imitating web pages, users can find your app online — not just in the app store. Users can share the URL of any app page with ease, increasing the opportunities for organic growth and engagement. UK brand Debenhams increased mobile revenue by 40% and conversions by 20% with a PWA.
Disadvantages of progressive web apps (PWAs)
1. Limited offline capability
Many native apps can run even when the user is not connected to the internet. However, PWAs rely on web browser connection to run, and therefore require internet connectivity. If offline mode is important for your users, a PWA is likely not the right choice.
2. Less convenient
PWAs have limited functionality on some operating systems and fast battery consumption, and
may not have full access to as many of the device’s features.
Are PWAs better than native apps?
There are many advantages to both native apps and PWAs. Choosing which is best for your needs will come down to your users and your app’s functionality. If you are still trying to choose between a PWA or native app, take these factors into consideration:
PWAs are best for:
- New apps with simple goals
- Companies with limited time and budget
- Increasing brand awareness with a widely available app
Native apps are best for:
- Building credibility through a reliable, secure, fully functional native app
- Access to advanced smartphone features such geofencing or sensors
Back in 2018, the founder and CEO of Bizness Apps suggested in Forbes that progressive web apps will replace native mobile apps over time, noting that “Google, Apple, and Microsoft – the three main standards in terms of native app distribution — are all driving the transition to PWAs.”
This has not quite come to fruition in the ensuing years, but PWAs are still relevant and slowly growing in popularity. Today, there are more app creation options than ever before. Learn how Adjust can help you measure your native app’s attribution and visualize campaign performance.
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