Progressive Web Apps vs. Native Mobile Apps: Everything You Need to Know

December 9, 2021

Progressive Web Apps vs. Native Mobile Apps: Everything You Need to Know

The average person consumes twice as much content on their mobile device than on their desktop. Chances are, at least half of the users that will read this article will do so on their phones.

With mobile usage increasing each year and the quality of devices getting better and better, the need for mobile apps that deliver a great experience and satisfactory results grows as well. To answer this need, many developers have turned to Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs, to help increase visibility and functionality for users beyond traditional mobile apps. 

Unlike native apps, PWAs are based on the user’s web browser, meaning they don’t have to be downloaded onto a device as an app and do not have to go through the app store approval process with Apple or Google.

Progressive Web Apps combine the accessibility and ease of a website with the functions of a native app. However, some developers continue to choose native apps as they do provide a few advantages that cannot be easily replicated with a Progressive Web App. There are marked differences between these two types of apps, so it is important to determine which is best on a case-by-case basis. 

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What are the different types of mobile apps? 

To ensure that you are spending your valuable resources on solutions that best serve your users, your development budget and complement your app’s overall performance, let’s take a look at how these app types compare to each other.

To make things a bit more simple, let’s break down some of the most common app types. If the world of mobile app development were to be sectioned into categories based on the technology used to create them, there would be three main types of mobile apps: web apps, native apps and hybrid apps.

Web Apps

Web apps can operate on any platform or operating system, as they are accessed via a web browser like Chrome or Firefox. Web apps are slightly different from regular websites because they incorporate more interactive features (think Facebook or Pinterest). Web apps are built using HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. To get a web app developed quickly, you can use a modern JavaScript framework such as Vue.js or Angular. 

Native Apps

Native apps are designed to be downloaded from an app store and used on one specific platform. Today, those platforms are mostly iOS by Apple and Android by Google. Unfortunately, apps developed for iOS cannot be used on Android platforms, and vice versa. This means that two different applications will have to be built if you want your app to be available for both platforms. These apps use the native code libraries of the platform they are built for (Swift or Objective-C for iOS and Java for Android) and can access advanced hardware features like cameras and GPS as well as connect and share data to other native apps on the device. 

Hybrid Apps

Hybrid apps are just what they sound like: a combination of native apps and web apps. Like web apps, they are built using HTML, CSS, or JavaScript. Unlike a web app, they are downloaded directly onto a mobile device and are wrapped with native app code so they can install and run just like a native app. 

What’s the benefit of a hybrid app? Hybrid apps are a great way to test out an idea for a native app while saving time and money. This option gets an app into the hands of consumers quickly and is frequently referred to as a minimum viable product, or MVP. MVP development allows you to build just one app instead of two, and get a feel for how the product could work if scaled up to a native app. Hybrid apps are often built on commercial software platforms that help take care of developing apps that work on both iOS and Android platforms and can push the apps into their respective app stores.

Now that we know the basic differences between the general mobile app types, we can dig a little deeper into PWAs and native apps and how each type can benefit or hinder your mobile app development goals.

What is a Progressive Web App?

Progressive Web Apps are a next-generation solution that blur the lines between websites and mobile apps. These are advanced web apps that have features of native apps, such as the capability to send push notifications or access a device’s camera, but are delivered through the web browser. Most websites can become a basic PWA with a few modifications.

How does a website become a Progressive Web App? Through the use of two features called a service worker and a manifest.json file. Service workers are JavaScript files that primarily function to allow a website to work offline, but have many other functions as well, from allowing access to push notifications to updating assets that reside on the server. A web app manifest, or JSON file, will ensure that the PWA is discoverable by providing details to the browser such as the name, icon, and description. 

While PWAs can’t be downloaded onto a mobile device like a native or hybrid app, PWAs can be saved on the home screen of the device just like a native app, saving the user the hassle of downloading an application onto their device, especially one they will seldom use.

What is a native app? 

You can simplify the native app definition down to one easy-to-remember phrase: purpose-built. Native apps are coded in programming languages specific to the operating system they are meant to be used on. This means that the app can function optimally on that operating system by making use of that system’s framework and tools.

By incorporating the unique capabilities of that particular hardware into the app itself, you can create a seamless user experience. However, with this type of programming, you cannot mix and match devices and apps. For example, an iPhone will not run an Android app and vice versa. This typically causes native app developers to build the app twice, once for iOS and once for Android systems. Navigation apps such as Waze, social media apps such as Instagram, and mobile games such as Animal Crossing are all native app examples.

Progressive Web App Benefits

As with any build, it is important to compare the pros and cons of each type of app. However, when it comes to choosing to create a Progressive Web App, many mobile app developers feel that the benefits this type of app offers outweigh the disadvantages by some margin. In addition to their native-app like appearance, offline functionality, and ability to run on any device or operating system, PWAs have other important benefits: 

1. Load times are fast 

Progressive Web Apps are much faster than most websites, keeping users engaged and lowering the bounce rate.  

2. Native app-like user experience

PWAs can send push notifications to a device, become full screen with a navigation that mimics the look of native apps, work in a limited offline mode and even access advanced mobile device features like the device’s cameras, GPS or Wi-Fi connection.

3. Secure

PWAs are served over HTTPS, which allows for browser-to-server encryption.  

4. Less costly to develop

Because PWAs do not require different versions for both iOS and Android, they are drastically cheaper for developers to both build and test. For the most part, code written for PWAs will work on all mobile devices without any modifications.  

5. Highly scalable

PWAs are easy to scale for increasing user base and traffic. It is as easy as scaling the web servers to accommodate the user base just like any other website.

6. Don’t rely on app stores

Because they are web-based, Progressive Web Apps don’t rely on app stores to be put in front of users. That means no Google or Apple developer licensing fees, no long-winded approval process for the Google or Apple stores and no constant required device compatibility maintenance and required updates. 

7. New features are automatically enabled

PWA updates will already be installed each time a user opens the app. That means permissions requests or annoying notifications are a thing of the past. 

8. Greater visibility

Native apps are only relevant to users who have the app installed. Because PWAs can be found online, not just in an app store, the potential audience reach grows exponentially. And because they are web-based, Progressive Web Apps can also take advantage of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to reach users. 

Benefits of Native Apps

Native mobile app development typically requires significantly more coding hours along with more long-term maintenance commitments by the businesses behind them. They require a lengthy downloading process, constant upgrades, and little flexibility. Aside from this, there are some key benefits to pursuing a native app build. Here are a few other benefits of native apps: 

1. Robust performance

Native apps tend to create the best performance possible for the user, as they work efficiently with that device’s specific operating system.  Since the apps have been purposefully built and optimized for that operating system, there is less chance of unknown code bugs or inefficiencies caused by a specific device’s configuration.

2. Fewer bugs during development

In general, there are far fewer bugs during the development of native apps as you are not relying on cross-platform tools to make a usable app. The platform-specific Integrated development environment (IDE) ensures that a modern and full-featured testing and debugging environment is available.

3. More security features

If you are looking to require users to log in, a native app can allow you to enable native device multi-factor authentication and other security features. With more security options, developers can ensure that no exchanges between the client and the server are tempered with in any way. This extends to payment processing as well. A PWA will require you to integrate your own payment system into the app while a native app has the capability to integrate with the app store’s payment system for quick, easy, and secure payments.

4. More intuitive to use 

Native apps go even further to enhance the user experience by aligning with the specific operating system to take full advantage of all of the features on the device. Because native apps are built following the guidelines of the operating system, these apps have little to no learning curve because users will be able to interact with the app using the user interface, actions and gestures that they already know.

5. More credibility 

There is also a certain level of credibility that comes with a native app. Nearly all users have heard stories of cyber attacks that have occurred after clicking or downloading something off of a website. The vetting process required to be added to an app store means that users are more likely to trust it as they are generally trusting of the store itself.

Native Apps vs. PWA: Which mobile app type should you choose? 

Checkout this Quick Video Comparison between a Real Native Mobile App vs a PWA

As you can see, when choosing which type of mobile app to build, both progressive web apps and native apps have areas where they have the upper hand. It is important to thoroughly consider the features of each type, the situations that they will be used in, and what the overarching vision for the app is.

What features do you want to integrate? What is the budget for the app? What are you looking to accomplish with the app? The answers to these questions can help you begin to decide if a native app or a progressive web app is the best choice for you.

Choose a PWA if:

  • You are a smaller company that needs a flexible solution that changes with your ever changing needs
  • You want to improve brand awareness—a PWA can be integrated with your current SEO practices
  • You have limited time or a tight budget (or both). Since there is no need to build the app more than once to suit each platform, you can save money and publish your app sooner.
  • You want a simple app for your end-users. A PWA doesn’t require a download but still allows push notifications and other advanced features
  • You wish to create a minimal viable product to present to stakeholders
  • Your app idea or content isn’t compatible with app store policies

Choose a Native App if: 

  • You wish to benefit from the credibility that comes with being published in an app store
  • You want to build an app that takes advantage of all of the latest features available on smartphones
  • Building a mobile app experience with complex functionality that requires advanced access to the user’s device data and / or features
  • You want your app to be able to integrate with other apps for any reason
  • Your app will feature in-app purchases or a subscription-based service
  • You need your mobile app to have the most robust security solutions available

Ready to start the Progressive Web App development process? Inspry can help. 

No matter how you look at it, mobile progressive web apps are the next-generation solution to mobile app issues. They provide an uncomplicated user experience without sacrificing many of the benefits a native app has to offer. PWAs have a great potential to change the world of mobile apps for the better.

Does your company want to be a part of that change? Let us help! As a web app development company, Inspry can create a PWA that perfectly suits your vision. We will collaborate with you to create an app that matches your goals and objectives the first time so that you can provide your users with the experience you desire. To get started on an app that is tailored to your audience, contact Inspry today.

Matt Schwartz is an accomplished entrepreneur and technology expert based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder and CEO of Inspry, a WordPress and WooCommerce web development and maintenance web agency that has been providing cutting-edge technology solutions to clients since 2011. With over a decade of experience in the industry, Matt has become a respected figure in the web development community and has helped numerous businesses achieve their digital goals.