For the longest time, the only way for enterprises to reach mobile users was through hybrid or native mobile apps. Today, however, the PWA (progressive web app) technology has emerged as a viable alternative solution for businesses of all sizes to engage with mobile users.
In 2021, there will be 6.4 billion global smartphone users, and the numbers are steadily rising. Given that the population is currently 7.9 billion, smartphone penetration is estimated to be over 80%.
Read along to discover the differences between PWAs and native apps, and find out which is the ideal option.
What are progressive web apps?
PWAs can access the hardware capabilities of your device and can do things like accessing your health data, tracking your location, or using the device’s camera. Furthermore, they work like mobile apps and ordinary websites and offer functionality, such as push notifications and offline mode.
Most importantly, Google pointed to PWAs as one of the best ways to adapt to a mobile-first approach.
The core advantages of PWAs are as follows
- Focus on UX design and intuitive UI — The UI/UX design of PWAs feels like a native application, but it offers users a more unified experience. UI remains the same in the web app and the browser version. This eliminates the need for users to learn more than a single interface. The progressive web app design is kept consistent and straightforward for better cross-browser functionality.
- Loading speed — PWAs use service workers for caching, managing requests, and storing shell data. This results in the app shell loading much faster than a native app. The loading speed is faster even if users don’t have internet connectivity.
- Greater online visibility — While native apps are easier to place in app stores, the visibility of PWAs remains unaffected. The nature of their build enables them to have greater online visibility than their native counterparts. PWAs are made up of app-imitating web pages, and therefore, they’re found online and not only in app stores.
- Affordable development cost — PWAs can operate across multiple operating systems and platforms. This makes it cost-effective and can even reduce the workload as you wouldn’t have to spend time and money on building separate apps for iOS and Android.
- High compatibility — PWAs can run on any OS and device. You can access them via a browser or mobile device.
- Automatic updates — All the new features are available to users automatically without clicking any buttons.
Drawbacks of PWAs
- Limited hardware access — PWAs have limited access to hardware and software features. For example, they don’t support features that HTML5 doesn’t maintain. For iOS devices, they don’t work with Touch ID and Face ID, ARKit, Siri, and other primary features of Apple.
- Battery consumption — Drains the battery fast because it runs on technologies not intended for the mobile environment. So, devices need to work harder to interpret the code.
- Limited functionality — Being Google’s brainchild, all iOS features are not supported.
What are native apps and their key advantages?
Native apps are built for specific software and coded in a particular programming language. The app functions optimally on an OS and utilizes the frameworks and tools of the system. When building a native app for specific hardware, developers can integrate the unique capabilities of that hardware.
What makes an application genuinely native is the programming language. For Android, it is Java or Kotlin, and for iOS, it is Objective-C or Swift. Moreover, users can download native apps from the App Store or Google Play Store.
The key benefits of native apps are –
- Offers the best UI/UX experience — Intuitive and attractive layouts, smooth scrolling, vivid animations, and other critical ingredients are part of the native look and feel. Users can expect the best user experience and easy-to-use interface.
- High performance — Developed using a native language of the device, they offer high speed and don’t consume much battery power.
- Data protection and security of the highest level — Two-factor authentication is possible with native apps. Users can enjoy better data protection and security compared to PWAs.
- Offline mode functionality — Thanks to smooth data synchronization and local storage, native apps can function offline. Data is typically cached when there’s no Internet connection.
- Complete access to hardware aspects — Native apps have full access to a device’s built-in features, such as camera, GPS, contact list, Bluetooth, and so on.
Drawbacks of native apps
- High development cost — Native apps are specifically created for a particular OS, and for each platform, you’ll have to hire a separate team of developers. So, you’ll need Swift Objective-C professionals to create iOS apps and Java or Kotlin professionals to develop Android apps. At the same time, for building hybrid apps that work on both platforms, you have to hire React Native developers.
- Too much memory consumption — Taking up too much RAM is one of the primary disadvantages of native apps. iOS takes up about 37.9 MB, and Android apps take 14.6 MB on average. These figures may vary depending on the type of app.
- Fussy installation process — To start a native app, you have to do more than click a link. Users have to visit an app store (App Store or Google Play), find the app, and click download. Then, users have to go through the installation process, which is different for each app. Since this process takes a while, many users prefer to use the web app or website of the brand and not download the native app at all.
What should you choose: Native app or Progressive Web App?
A PWA is not going to replace a native app and vice versa. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. When choosing between them, businesses need to consider how each excels and how they fit in with the app’s vision.
Consider building a native app if:
1. You wish to build brand credibility as publishing applications on app stores enhances reliability, and native apps offer more security options.
2. You want to leverage the advanced features of smartphones, such as cameras or geofencing.
Consider building a PWA if:
A. You have just launched your business and want to develop a simple application for your user that doesn’t require download.
B. The aim is to improve brand awareness.
C. There is efforts to enhance your SEO since PWAs work like a website and reach a much larger audience.
D. You have budget and time constraints.
Both native apps and PWAs deliver a seamless experience for users, and they’re both here to stay. When choosing between the two, consider the resources and goals for your project!