PWA vs Native Apps — Which to choose in 2022

Just a few years ago, the web platform was outperformed by the Native App in almost everything. The gulf between what could be done in the browser and the capabilities of applications downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store was terrifyingly huge.

Much has changed since then, and web technologies have continued to evolve — something that was fundamentally impossible before is now a reality. The progressive growth of the capabilities of web standards was appreciated by the developers. And today, many of them, not without reason, believe that developing using web technologies is faster, easier, and cheaper.

Progressive Web Applications are a serious competitor to classical development, and many are sure that the future belongs to them, and not to Native Applications. Is it so?

In this article, we will talk about everything you need to know about PWAs and Native Apps. Keep reading to find out key features and differences, compare the pros and cons of these types of apps, and consider scenarios for using these technologies from the perspective of developers, users, and businesses.

PWA and Native Apps: Main Differences

Native Application and Progressive Web Application are two different types of apps that benefit in their specific environments.

Native Apps are classic mobile applications designed for specific devices and available for download on the App Store or Google Play. To build such an application, programming languages are used: for iOS — Objective-C and Swift, for Android — Java and Kotlin, for both platforms — React Native, Xamarin, or Flutter.

Progressive Web App (PWA) is a technology that allows installing a website on a smartphone as an application. It eliminates the need to develop a separate site, an iOS app, and an Android app — it is enough to have only a website. PWA allows the application to “live” in the browser. It is an analog of a website with the capabilities of a full-fledged application: a fast interface, offline work, sending push notifications, using a camera and sensors, etc.

Both of these development solutions use different technologies and have various purposes and architectures. Let’s look at the key differences between the technologies.

  • Application download. PWA opens through a desktop and mobile browser without installation, supports all popular operating systems, and the page looks and works like a native app. The native application is programmed for the corresponding IOS or Android platform and downloaded from the marketplace.
  • Promotion. PWAs cannot be promoted through marketplaces, unlike native ones. There is no way you can add apps to the app stores and they won’t be able to move through ratings, reviews, or download numbers. However, Progressive Web Apps are SEO-friendly, unlike native ones.
  • Access to software components. With the native approach, there are no restrictions — you can get all the data you need from the user (geolocation, access to the camera, and so on). PWA has limitations on the components you can connect to (NFC, Bluetooth, advanced camera controls, and so on). These limitations can make it impossible to develop your product using PWA and it is better to choose the native option.
  • Cross-platform approach. Cross-platform is an integral part of web solutions and, undoubtedly, the leading trend in development. Maintaining separate independent codebases for Android and iOS is very costly. Therefore, even for Native Applications, developers are increasingly choosing cross-platform technologies such as React Native, Xamarin, or Flutter. And PWA allows you to get truly cross-platform applications.

So, in general, Native Apps are the most obvious way to build a mobile app in the “native” language of the platform. If we talk about PWA, these types of applications provide a user experience and engagement level that are usually considered achievable only in full-fledged applications.

Popularity: What Do Developers Use the Most?

As we have already said, the popularity of Progressive Web Applications among businesses of all sizes and different industries is growing. Thus, according to forecasts, by 2027 the market size of PWAs will reach $10.44 billion. Android’s market share is 72.7%, while iOS’s share has almost reached 30%. Creating an application for one of these operating systems will definitely be beneficial for your business.

It is not known exactly which type of application is more popular. And the popularity of technologies and the choice between them depends only on the needs that these applications must satisfy.

PWA: Benefits and Limitations

PWAs offer advantages that are relevant for both businesses and customers. So, why should users and developers choose a Progressive Web App?

Pros of PWAs:

  • Cross-platform. One solution is being developed for all platforms: Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, and Linux.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Development and support are 70% cheaper than a Native Application, and there are also savings on re-attracting a client since there are no costs for customer return tools (retargeting and remarketing).
  • High speed. PWA works much faster — including due to caching.
  • Offline support. PWA works offline, it can work not only with slow internet but even without it.
  • Convenient interface. Pages switch instantly, navigation and control buttons are located according to native standards.
  • Adaptability and responsiveness. The user interface adapts to the screens of mobile, tablets, laptops, and PCs.
  • Safety. Data exchange is carried out through a reliable protocol — HTTPS.
  • Small size. The size, as a rule, does not exceed 1 MB — it needs less memory on the device than a native mobile app.
  • Functionality. The PWA allows sending push notifications, it has access to almost the same features as the Native App: geolocation, camera, microphone, Bluetooth, sensors, and so on.
  • Possibility of installation. PWA can be added to the smartphone’s home screen along with applications from the App Store and Google Play.
  • Promotion. PWA is indexed in search engines. It does not need to be placed in the App Store and Google Play, but can be downloaded directly from the site.

PWAs also have a number of disadvantages that impose certain restrictions on their owners. Let’s look at the most important of them.

Cons of PWAs:

  • Limited features. There is still a difference in features and convenience between PWA and Native Apps. This is especially true for iOS. Apple is slowly rolling out feature support to Progressive Web Apps. But still, PWAs on iPhone and iPad work with limitations. For example, there is no support for Touch ID and there are some restrictions on working with Bluetooth.
  • Browser support limitations. PWAs are only compatible with Chrome, Opera, Firefox, and Microsoft. This means that they do not have the ability to send notifications to the iPhone, since the default browser on iOS is Safari.
  • High battery usage. PWAs are developed using JavaScript, which is harder to process on mobile devices than the Native App solutions.
  • Browser dependency. PWA works well on the latest versions of popular browsers. However, if the user has an outdated version, the likelihood of outages increases.
  • Reduced performance. In terms of this, PWAs are inferior to Native Applications, the main reason for which is the single-threading of JavaScript.

So, considering the main features of Progressive Web Apps, it becomes clear that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. This technology has already created a new development philosophy, which means it should definitely not be ignored.

Native Apps: Advantages and Disadvantages

A native approach provides many benefits that allow such applications to win in the competitive market. So, why should users and developers choose a Native App?

Pros of Native Apps:

  • Extended features. When developing platform-specific applications, technologies are used that are directly related to this platform. And this means that its own native code has direct access to all the functions of a particular operating system.
  • Enhanced performance and high speed. The simple interaction of the application with the built-in functions of devices increases the overall performance of the application and its speed. Developing even loaded applications with native code reduces response time, as well as the likelihood of failures and crashes.
  • Platform-oriented approach. Native Apps make the most of the OS and solve specific problems on a specific platform. This results in a better match between application features and device hardware capabilities (Bluetooth, NFC, camera, GPS, and so on).
  • More customized user interface. Through direct integration with the operating system, users can easily navigate through a familiar interface, resulting in an advanced user experience.
  • Opportunities for good positioning. The quality of the user experience is an important rating metric in app stores. If an application has a high user experience score, it will be rated higher by the app store, leading to more downloads and more app revenue, respectively.

Despite numerous advantages, the native approach also has certain limitations. Especially when compared to Progressive Web Applications.

Cons of Native Apps:

  • Long terms and high cost of development. Creating an app for each platform separately requires writing two code bases, which means that the cost of developing an application will be higher, and the time frame will be longer.
  • Dependence on one operating system. Native solutions use a language environment specially designed for the operating platform, which makes such an application incompatible with other platforms. And this approach certainly limits the reach and availability of the product.
  • Reduced profit. The deliberate reduction of the target market leads to lost financial opportunities. The potential benefit from designing and developing cross-platform Progressive Web Applications far exceeds platform-specific ones.

Despite the fact that native solutions are classic and generally accepted, they have some limitations and disadvantages that can become critical. However, in some scenarios, this approach is the best option.

PWAs vs Native Apps: Detailed Comparison

Now let’s visually compare these two technologies and analyze their key features in terms of various parameters.

General definition An app that is actually a website with app-like features and interface — the website is downloaded to the smartphone as a mobile app. An application that is designed for a specific operating system — as a rule, separately for Android and separately for iOS.
Installation It does not need to be downloaded but it can be installed on the home screen among other mobile apps. It is downloaded directly from the App Store or Google Play and installed on the smartphone.
Access to the device’s features It may have limited access to the functions of the operating system, especially when it comes to iOS. It is a platform-centric solution and has full access to all functions of the operating system.
Time-to market Development is faster, no need to have a separate app for Android and iOS, just a website is enough. Development takes longer (especially apps for different OSs) and release requires approval from app stores.
Development costs One development team is enough. Each platform needs a separate team (one is enough in the case of a cross-platform solution)
Offline mode Caching capabilities make it possible to work with poor internet or even without it. Depending on the type of application, offline work is available.
Implementation of updates Application users do not participate in the automatic update process. Application updates are implemented by both businesses and users.
Promotion SEO-friendly App Store Optimization
Security A reliable protocol — HTTPS encryption Extra security solutions based on an embedded device component
Push notifications Not available for iOS +
Communication between applications - +

What Is the Best Choice for a Developer?

First and foremost is that different technologies serve different purposes. Native Apps are designed for mobile devices, while PWAs are written to run in the browser. The choice between these solutions in terms of development depends on the language: Native Applications for iOS are developed using Objective-C and Swift, for Android — Java and Kotlin, for both platforms — React Native, Xamarin, or Flutter. PWA uses HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

In general, Native Apps should be chosen if the development of a feature-rich product is a priority and the ability to use advanced device features and integration with other apps are critical. In addition, Native Application is the best solution for projects where increased security is a must and building a reliable reputation and increasing trust in the business among the audience are important goals.

Progressive Web Apps are preferred if developers are dealing with startups and the challenge is to create a simple app for an audience with a limited budget and in a short time. Also, applications of this type are great when there is no specific business idea and you need to create an MVP first. Develop PWA if notifications on iOS devices are not critical, and the key tasks are to increase brand awareness and SEO.

What Is the Best Choice for Users?

From the user’s perspective, the choice between Progressive Web App and Native App depends on the functionality of the app itself and the user characteristics of the device.

PWA is easy to install on a smartphone without downloading from the app store — you can simply add it to the home screen directly from the browser. Also, such applications take up significantly less space than Native ones, but they consume more battery power. In terms of performance and power, the native approach wins, but the PWA does not need to be constantly updated manually — this is done automatically without user intervention. The native app has more options in the context of smartphone interaction and integration with other apps. However, Progressive Web Applications are gradually catching up with native ones in these parameters as well.

Summing up, we would like to say that for business, the presence of PWA is now a powerful competitive advantage. Giant companies around the world are implementing these solutions to enhance user engagement, boost conversions, and increase re-engagements — Twitter, Lancome, OLX, and many others. Soon, having a PWA will become a must for any reputable enterprise, and its absence will be considered a real flaw.

Our developers have extensive experience and many successfully implemented case studies on building both Native Applications and Progressive Web Applications. We will help your business achieve all goals, meet the needs of your audience, and take your project to a whole new level. In development, we introduce innovative approaches and focus on the best world practices, which allows us to provide the best services for application development. Choose BRIGHTS and see for yourself.

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