The number of mobile consumers has been growing steadily. According to Statista, the number of smartphone users worldwide will reach 2.87 billion by 2020. To meet modern customers' demands, e-commerce entrepreneurs have to provide a fast, easy, and seamless mobile shopping experience. That's where mobile apps and progressive web apps (PWAs) come in.
The mobile app has become an essential tool in every company's kit, and there's a need for a mobile app to deliver a great experience and good results. In the past few years, there's been growing support for a new type of app – Progressive Web Apps (PWA).
It combines the functions of the native app and the accessibility of a website. Many have questioned if PWA will replace native apps in the future.
But which should you choose: a progressive web app or a native app? To make an informed decision, you'll first need to know the pros and cons of each approach. To simplify things, we've written this guide about the differences between PWAs and native apps and how businesses can benefit from each.
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What is a progressive web app?
Short for Progressive Web App, PWA is a recent emergence in all the popular marketplaces owing to its ability to seamlessly function on any device with a compatible browser.
A progressive web app is a website that acts like a native mobile app. The main difference between a native mobile application and a PWA is that a PWA operates in a browser, so there's no need to download it from an app store.
Thanks to service workers, PWAs can save data on a user's device in the cache. That allows users to stay up to date at all times, no matter how fast their internet connection. For example, Twitter offers a progressive web application; however, they also have native mobile apps for iOS and Android.
Make no mistake: a Progressive Web App is still a website. It just looks and feels like an app, thanks to modern web technology. Users will browse Progressive Web App on their browser with an URL just like they do any website, but right after they land on the PWA, they get the experience of using an "app", right on their browser, without the need to download and install.
Furthermore, PWA sites can be indexed by Googlebot so you can optimize them based on Google's guidelines and best practices for higher rankings. This isn't the case with a mobile app. Moreover, web apps can be linked to and shared, and distributed via the web, so this increases the chance of being discovered via other platforms and social media.
What is a native app?
Native apps are applications that have been built for specific software, coded in a particular programming language. This allows the app to optimally function on an operating system while making use of that system's tools and frameworks.
By choosing to build a native app for particular hardware, it's possible to incorporate the unique capabilities of that hardware.
This means a native app is usually developed twice, so users have access regardless of their preferred device. For example, a native app can be coded in Java (for Android) or Objective C (for iOS). They can then be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play onto a device.
What are the benefits of a native app?
Ease of use with other native apps
A major benefit to creating native apps for iOS and Android is that these applications can interact with other native apps (for example, if you want your app to allow users to seamlessly connect with Facebook).
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 because they are not developed for one platform.
Your native app can integrate payment processing with a user's app store, making it easier for users to make purchases and subscriptions. If you want to monetize a PWA, you're required to integrate your own payment system. However, longer session times and increased engagements may balance this out. In Tinder's previously mentioned PWA, purchases on the web were on par with the company's native app.
App store visibility
While both native apps and PWAs can be published on the App Store, this process is more complicated for the latter. With a PWA, you are required 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. To learn about these processes for each app store, read this comparison guide.
With easier access to the app store, you can focus your resources on App Store Optimization (ASO) and Apple Search Ads (ASA) instead. Both ASO and ASA are cost-effective means of acquiring high-value users, encouraging those who have shown intent (searching specific keywords) to install your app.
With native apps, it's easier to implement robust security features such as 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.
PWAs are not as efficient when it comes to battery usage simply because they are not written in the hardware's native language. While this may cause some users to reduce their activity on a PWA, this problem is avoided by opting to build a native app.
What are the benefits of a progressive web app (PWA)?
Although native apps are still a relevant option for developers, there are several ways in which they are outperformed by PWAs. Here are a few key examples of why developers are opting to build PWAs as a performance-enhancing alternative.
As previously discussed, 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 speed is quicker for the user even if they aren't connected to the internet, although new information won't be available until they are reconnected. Because loading speeds have a huge impact on retention and engagement, this is a critical benefit of developing a PWA in place of (or in addition to) a native app.
PWAs allows you to offer users a unified experience, with the same interface in their browser and the app installed on their device. This eliminates any need for the user to learn more than one interface — an experience that could otherwise frustrate users when using mobile web and a native app.
Native apps also require more storage space on a user's device. This is a factor that is preferable to users with limited storage space. With PWAs, users have access to your app's full functionality without having to think about their storage or a lengthy download period.
Building a PWA that can operate across multiple platforms and operating systems is cost-effective and will dramatically reduce your workload. In addition to this, building separate native apps for Android and iOS would otherwise require you to spend time on new features and regular updates relevant to that operating system.
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.
This allows you to utilize SEO in order to reach valuable users in a cost-effective manner. It also means users can share the URL of any app page with ease, increasing the opportunities for organic growth and engagement.
PWA vs. Native apps: When to use each app type?
As shown in the comparison table, a progressive web app won't replace a native app, despite all the advantages of the former. Still, in some business cases, there is no need to pay more. Having a robust PWA is more than enough. These cases include the following:
- You are looking to reach a large audience, but your budget doesn't allow you to develop a separate app for each platform.
- The functionality of the expected app doesn't require hardware elements, which are not supported by PWAs.
- Push notifications are not your priority, and there are other ways to keep your audience engaged.
- The functionality of the expected app does not comply with the application store policy.
If your case didn't make the list, a native mobile app is exactly what you need. Now, let's explore business cases requiring a native app:
- Your app requires tight integration with hardware elements.
- Push notifications are required both for Android and iOS.
- Biometric authentication is a must.
- It is a game or an AR solution.
Despite being similar at first glance, progressive web and native apps are suited for different business cases. As shown in the article, the main difference lies in the fact they're based on different technologies and show different levels of integration with hardware elements. These differences lead to discrepancies in their compatibility, shareability, promotional peculiarities, and other aspects.