Technology

Progressive web apps vs native apps – which are better?

Marlena Walburg
Marlena Walburg

Are you facing the challenge of choosing the best approach to develop a mobile application? Well, many businesses have faced it. What is certain is that offering software for mobile devices, regardless of what business you run, is a profitable option, and even a necessity in today’s highly mobile solution-oriented times. To meet your expectations, we have collected the most important information about two popular solutions, Progressive Web Apps and native applications. You can find a comparison between the two very helpful, and we hope it will be.

What is PWA?

Progressive Web App is a web application that runs just like a regular website but gives the impression of operating as a native mobile application. It is built using web technologies, including HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Works on any platform that uses a standards-compliant browser. Web applications have long been available for mobile devices but were also slower, more modest and less used than native applications. PWA responds to this by offering a user experience that is more and more similar to native applications. It has been assumed that Progressive Web App should have features such as offline work, support for push notifications, access to certain built-in phone functions, background processing in service workers in a separate thread and an icon on the phone’s home screen. Since Progressive Web App works in the browser, users do not need to download and install PWAs through app stores such as the Apple App Store or Google Play. However, the lack of visibility of PWA in these distribution systems is a disadvantage for many PWA developers compared to native applications. The largest app stores have started using PWA to varying degrees, so some of them can be found there as well.

Advantages of PWA

  • Available on all platforms – PWAs don’t need separate codebases for each platform, saving time and money in result;
  • No download required – PWAs run in the browser, so there is no need to download them, so they don’t take up a lot of memory;
  • SEO friendly – technically, PWA is a website, which is why it offers wide possibilities of search engine optimization. Instead of starting a marketing campaign, you can rely on SEO benefits for its promotion;
  • Offline access – Service Workers enable offline use in PWA applications. These are JavaScript files that work independently of the web application itself and help to improve performance and functionality by handling network requests, caching application resources and fetching resources from the cache, and allow sending push notifications.

Disadvantages of PWA

  • Limited access to device functions – PWAs cannot access as many phone functions as native applications, such as Bluetooth, which is necessary for indoor geolocation;
  • Limited web browser support – PWAs are not supported by all web browsers, with the risk of losing a large number of mobile app audiences if you only have PWA;
  • Limited functionality – as PWAs are Android-focused, it is possible that the iOS PWA will not support all of its functions.

What is a native mobile app?

Native applications are created for a specific platform, which is most often Android or iOS. To gain access to such apps, you need to download and install them on your mobile device from dedicated application stores, such as the App Store or Google Play. Native apps are programmed in languages ​​dedicated to specific platforms, like among others Java or Kotlin for Android and Swift for iOS. As a result, the application must have a separate version for each platform, and thus its own codebase. Therefore, companies that decide to use a native approach must have in mind they will develop Android and iOS applications separately. Native applications offer complex integrations with the device and access to its built-in functions for an excellent user experience. It also opens the door to high performance and wide opportunities to build complex ambitious products.

Advantages of native mobile apps

  • High performance – native applications are built with a specific platform in mind and optimized for it, thanks to which they achieve high performance and run smoothly;
  • Security – having full access to the device on which they are installed, native applications are more secure and better protect user data. Their architecture allows for the introduction of more security functions, such as multi-factor authentication;
  • Access to built-in device functions – native applications provide access to the device functions without any plug-ins or additional tools, which increases its capabilities and attractiveness;
  • Great user experience – high performance, adaptation of the application to the platform and its functions, as well as simpler and smoother navigation and a wealth of features, make native applications provide an excellent user experience.

Disadvantages of native mobile apps

  • Separate versions for each platform – when choosing a native approach, you should take into account that each platform must have coded its own version of the application, which requires a separate development team for each of them;
  • High price – native application development is more expensive. Requires separate teams for each platform to not only build the application but maintain both versions. It is also more time consuming;
  • The necessity of installation – you need to download and install the application on the device for it to work. If the process takes too long, it will discourage the user from using the application.

Difference between PWA and Native Apps

There are, of course, some differences between PWA and native applications.

How to access an app

The first one has to do with how the user accesses them. Native apps can be found and installed through an app store such as Google Play or the Apple iOS App Store. App stores are the most popular places to purchase applications that people use on their mobile devices. So if users can find your app using popular keywords or brand name, you gain a big favour and have a better chance of getting interested. It is also related to the entire process of application approval by the app store, as well as the rating and review system that affects the final user’s decision to download the app. With PWA, we skip the application approval stage in the store. Instead, PWAs run directly in the browser on a mobile device, and you just need to search for them in a search engine. It is easy to save them on the home screen, but not always users are aware of it, and this is especially difficult with iOS.

Offline access

PWA works offline, but only to a specific extent. It can make certain parts of an application available to users when their device cannot connect to the network, but it cannot share everything with them. Native applications have a decisive advantage here, which results from their operation directly on the device. PWA is catching up and allowing users to access cached content. However, they are not yet able to connect to a mobile device as much as native apps.

Safety

Native applications are generally a safer solution for both the application provider and the users. It allows you to enter multi-factor authentication, which is extremely useful if your application has a login feature. It provides a large layer of security for native applications. Native applications can also use security certificate pinning, and they also have to undergo a verification process in app stores, which is impossible when the application has security issues. However, PWAs are still supported by HTTPS, which allows encryption between the browser and the server. If the developers have created a safe environment for PWA, it can be as secure as any website.

Cost

A native application (granted that it is developed on more than one platform, and usually, it does) requires separate development teams for each version. This approach requires a long development process, and the maintenance of the application is more time consuming and expensive in the long run. To balance the disadvantages of the native approach, you can consider a cross-platform solution such as React Native or Flutter, which allows sharing the codebase by applications for both Android and iOS. PWA is basically a web application built for all platforms at once. Therefore, it does not require investing in more than one development team and will be created faster, and therefore cheaper.

Examples of PWA

Lots of big brands have launched their own PWA. Among the best known are those listed below.

Trivago

This is a famous travel app that finds the best hotel room prices. Initially, it operated as a regular website, but after transforming into PWA, it increased engagement several times and gained new users. 

Pinterest

A well-known platform for DIY fans, inspiration seekers and more. Pinterest decided to build a PWA when it noticed that the website was quite slow, and few people were willing to install the application on Android or iOS. The transition to PWA resulted in increased user engagement and improved efficiency.

Forbes

This well-known media business platform needed a solution faster than its mobile website. To guarantee a better UX, Forbes decided to build PWA, and today it actually records greater user engagement. After the release of PWA, loading times dropped to such an extent that the media company almost immediately saw an over a dozen increase in readership.

Examples of Native Mobile Apps

We’ve already covered examples of native apps in our Native vs Hybrid apps comparison, but they’re worth mentioning again.

Lyft

It is a platform operating via a mobile application that offers a wide range of transport services, vehicle rental and food delivery. It is the second most popular application of this type after Uber.

Angry Birds

This is a well-known series of games in which players shoot their opponents with a slingshot on various constructors. The first game was released in December 2009 for the iOS platform, and since then, over 12 million copies of the game have been sold on the App Store. This saw the Android version of Angry Birds games released as well. With time, many parts of the game were created, including thematic parts, such as Star Wars.

Pokemon Go

It is a real knockout of 2016. Pokemon Go is an augmented reality (AR) mobile game for iOS and Android devices. It uses mobile devices with GPS to locate, catch, train and fight virtual creatures called Pokémon that seem to be in the real world of the player. It was one of the most used and profitable mobile apps in 2016 and was downloaded over 500 million times worldwide by the end of the year.

Native application vs Progressive Web App: which one should you choose?

Choosing the right solution should always be based on the goals and values you want to achieve for both your business and users. Having an idea for an application and target group, you should focus primarily on what features you want to offer, which will positively affect the user experience, what options must necessarily be available. So, if you assume that the application is to have full access to the device, be extremely efficient and run completely offline, the native approach will be the better choice. Despite the time-consuming development and higher costs, you will get the software with high customization options, safe and smooth.

Having a solid PWA is also a smart choice in some cases. If you want to reach a large audience with a limited budget that does not allow you to create a separate application for each platform, choose PWA. However, remember that the functionality of the application may not require hardware components that are not supported by PWA. But with a good idea and focus on the user, you can achieve success by creating a PWA.

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