Explore the key differences between Progressive Web Apps and Native Apps to determine which one is the optimal choice for your business in 2023. Gain insights into the advantages and limitations of each approach to make an informed decision that aligns with your business goals and user experience requirements.
As the mobile landscape continues to expand, developers face a critical decision when creating applications: Progressive Web Apps or Native Apps?
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) combine the best of web and native technologies, enabling seamless experiences across multiple platforms while native apps leverage device-specific capabilities.
By exploring their unique characteristics, advantages, and limitations, we’ll help you choose the most suitable approach for your development endeavors.
What are Progressive Web Apps?
PWAs are a relatively new breed of applications that combine the best features of both web and native apps.
You can access these apps through web browsers, eliminating the need for users to download and install them from app stores.
Key Features and Advantages of Progressive Web Apps
- Cross-platform compatibility – PWAs are platform-agnostic, meaning they can run on different operating systems and devices, including desktops, smartphones, and tablets. This universal compatibility allows developers to reach a wider audience with a single codebase.
- Responsive and adaptive design – They are built with responsive design principles, ensuring that the user interface adapts to different screen sizes and orientations.
- Offline functionality – Progressive Web Apps can cache data and resources, allowing users to access content and perform tasks even when they are offline.
- Fast and seamless performance – Finally, they leverage techniques like service workers and app shell architecture to deliver fast loading times and smooth navigation.
Limitations and Challenges of Progressive Web Apps
- Limited access to device capabilities – Unlike native apps, PWAs have limited access to certain device capabilities such as push notifications, cameras, and sensors.
- Dependency on browser support – Progressive Web Apps heavily rely on browser compatibility and support for various web technologies and APIs. In some cases, certain features or functionalities may not be fully supported across all browsers, requiring developers to implement alternative solutions or workarounds.
- Discoverability and user adoption – Native apps have the advantage of being listed in app stores, where users actively search and discover new applications. PWAs, on the other hand, rely on effective marketing strategies and user awareness to drive adoption and usage.
What are Native Apps?
Native apps are applications that are specifically developed for a particular operating system, such as iOS or Android, using the programming languages and development tools provided by the platform.
These apps are installed directly onto the user’s device through app stores, offering a high level of performance and access to a wide range of device-specific features.
Key Features and Advantages of Native Apps
- Optimised performance – Native apps are built using platform-specific languages (e.g., Swift for iOS, Java/Kotlin for Android) and development frameworks. This native code execution allows for optimal performance, delivering fast and responsive user experiences.
- Access to device capabilities – Developers can leverage the device’s capabilities to create feature-rich and interactive applications, as they have full access to the device’s hardware and software features, including the camera, GPS, accelerometer, contacts, and more.
- Enhanced user experience – Native apps provide a consistent and familiar user interface that aligns with the platform’s design guidelines and user expectations.
- Offline functionality – Finally, these apps can store data locally on the device, allowing users to access and interact with the app’s content even without an internet connection.
Limitations and Challenges of Native Apps
- Development and maintenance costs – Building native apps requires expertise in platform-specific programming languages and frameworks, which may lead to higher development and maintenance costs compared to other app development approaches. Developing separate versions for different platforms can also be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
- Platform dependency – Native apps are tied to a specific platform, meaning separate versions must be developed for different operating systems.
- App Store approval process – These apps need to go through a review and approval process by app store providers, such as Apple’s App Store or Google Play Store. This process can introduce delays and additional requirements.
- Updates and user adoption – Users are required to download updates from app stores to access the latest features and bug fixes. Ensuring users update their apps regularly can be a challenge.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Between PWAs and Native Apps
Choosing between Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and Native Apps requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure the best fit for your specific development goals and target audience. Here are key factors to consider:
Functionality and Complexity
Native apps are often preferred for complex applications that rely heavily on device capabilities and offline functionality.
PWAs, on the other hand, are suitable for content-focused apps or those with simpler functionalities that prioritise cross-platform reach.
Native apps offer a highly optimised, platform-specific experience, leveraging device-specific features and design guidelines.
PWAs provide a consistent experience across platforms, including enterprise eCommerce platforms, but they may have limitations in accessing certain device capabilities and UI customisability.
Development Resources and Costs
Native app development requires expertise in platform-specific languages and frameworks, potentially increasing development time and costs.
PWAs can be developed with web technologies, allowing for a broader pool of developers and potentially reducing development efforts.
Platform Dependency and Reach
Native apps require separate development for each platform (e.g., iOS and Android), whereas PWAs offer cross-platform compatibility.
If reaching a broad audience across different platforms is crucial, PWAs can be a viable option.
App Store Considerations
Native apps benefit from app store exposure, discoverability, and potential monetization options.
PWAs, however, don’t require app store approval and can be easily accessed through web browsers, eliminating the need for users to download from app stores.
Maintenance and Updates
Native apps typically require separate updates for each platform, while PWAs can be updated instantly without user intervention.
However, native apps have more control over app updates and can utilize push notifications to prompt users to update.
Case Studies and Real-World Examples
Several organisations have successfully implemented either Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) or Native Apps to address their specific requirements and achieve their goals.
We’ll take a look at two social media giants as an example.
Twitter Lite (PWA)
Twitter developed Twitter Lite, a PWA that offers a fast and reliable user experience, even on low-end devices and in areas with limited connectivity.
Twitter Lite combines the advantages of a native app with the accessibility of a web app, resulting in a data-efficient and accessible application.
Instagram (Native App)
Instagram’s native app provides a seamless and immersive user experience with features like photo sharing, stories, and real-time notifications.
The app leverages device-specific capabilities like the camera and location services to deliver a visually engaging and interactive platform.
Web Apps vs. Native Apps
All in all, when deciding between Progressive Web Apps and Native Apps, it is essential to consider factors such as functionality, user experience, development resources, platform dependency, app store considerations, and maintenance requirements.
Both PWAs and native apps have their strengths and limitations, and businesses can find success with either approach depending on their specific goals and target audience.