Feb 12, 2021 3:14:57 PM

PWA vs Native App: Which is Better in 2021?

Posted by The Teknicks Team

Apps are an essential tool that organizations should consider offering to provide users with an exceptional customer experience. Over the last few years, there has been growing support for progressive web apps, or PWA. The great thing about a PWA is that it combines the functionality of a native app, with the accessibility of a website. Many have started to question whether or not it is possible for PWAs to completely replace native apps in the future. Read on to learn more about PWAs or if you need help choosing whether to go with a PWA or native app.

PWA vs. Native App: Which is Better?

Source: Pexels (CC0 License)

For Developers: The Difference Between PWA and Native Apps:

As you can imagine, the development of a progressive web app and a native app are actually quite different. From a developer’s perspective, native apps are coded to be installed on smartphones, tablets, and other smart devices based on the operating system and hardware associated with the device. 

PWAs on the other hand, are basically websites styled like apps that can be run either inside a website browser or installed directly onto the device and accessed like a native app. A PWA uses CSS, Javascript and HTML while Native apps are developed with the programming language for individual platforms, including Java which is the most common language for Android and Swift or Objective-C for iOS. This makes developing a PWA much faster and easier, because you only need to build one version that can be displayed seamlessly on almost any mobile device’s web browser.

Cost of Development & Maintenance

Because of this simple scalability, one advantage of PWAs is that they can be significantly cheaper to develop as compared to building a native app. Native apps are typically not responsive across different devices and screen sizes, so you will likely have to build a suitable version for each device you plan to support. A PWA acts like a website and is powered by your browser, so it can be responsive and adapt to work on any device. 

When building a native app, you will also have to build separate apps for iOS and Android. Further resources will then be required in order to update and maintain each supported version in their respective app stores, generally using totally different programming languages. Depending on your overall purpose and app complexity, this can require a great deal of time and money. By contrast, progressive web apps have one codebase that is suitable for multiple platforms and devices, which makes it easier and less expensive to develop or maintain.

Updating a native app can also be time-consuming and demanding. You will need to get every update to your app approved on the store, and you will also need to update every version of the app. Knowing what mobile users are like doesn’t make things any easier. People won’t be updating their apps at the same time, so it’s entirely possible for you to have different versions of your app all out there at the same time, which can make things confusing.

Convenience

With a native app, in addition to having to build separate versions for every platform, you will also need to submit them to various app stores, maintain store listings, and manage user reviews. In addition, each time you add new features to a native app you will need to resubmit the updated version to the app stores for approval. Then your users will have to update to the new version. 

The Apple App Store and Android’s Play Store are the two biggest options, but they aren’t your only choices. You also have the Windows Store and the Amazon App Store to consider as well. Depending on your app's purpose and platform, you may want to submit the app to additional app stores like the Samsung Galaxy Store, Apptoid, and F-Droid. You have to make sure that your app is able to pass a number of requirements if you want to get published. In some instances, you may also need to pay to get your developer account registered. 

PWAs bypass all of these obstacles. The only thing that your users need to have is a website browser and your URL. This makes it much easier for your app to be accessible to a wider audience. With a PWA you can usually update and deploy your changes without approval or additional installs by your users because updates go live instantly. This makes PWAs more convenient for you as a developer, and your users. 

That’s not to say web stores are a bad thing. In fact, it’s these stringent requirements that prevent many poor quality or malicious applications from being published. Having published apps on these storefronts can increase the general reliability of a company in the eyes of their customers. It’s also possible for Web Stores to do the promotion of the app for you. Being featured in an app store can give you a sales boost and a quick way to increase brand awareness.

SEO & Discoverabilty

Native applications themselves cannot be indexed, therefore its content cannot be listed in SERPs. App stores provide an app "listing" page which can be indexed, but you have limited flexibility on the content of the listing page. This really forces companies to rely on getting found via the app store. There are a number of factors that influence app discoverability which is essentially SEO for the app store, or app store optimization (ASO). It will involve you doing keyword research, writing a good description and an optimized title, including engaging imagery, and earning positive reviews. You will need to take good screenshots, post your app in the right categories, and reach out to third parties so you can get some good reviews and downloads. All of this will take a lot of time, and it will cost you as well. 

If you put in the proper effort to optimize your app store listing and gain a steady number of reviews and downloads over time, users will find your app with ease. That being said, there are millions of apps on the web stores from Windows, Apple, and Google. It’s imperative that your app is easy to notice, valuable, and unique if you want to stand out from the crowd.

PWAs on the other hand work just like a website, meaning you can get indexed by a search engine. This comes with its own set of challenges, but when you compare a PWA to a normal app, you will soon find that you can rank in a very similar way, albeit with a different method. While you will miss out on the potential of being featured on an App store’s font page, you will have far more control over SEO and your Google Search capabilities can arguably make your application more discoverable. 

As mentioned above, there are steps you can take to get your native app ranked. The same concept applies to your PWA. You need to implement an SEO structure which will be very similar to that of your website. You need to avoid duplicate content and you also need to pay attention to any hashtags, as the Googlebot will not pay attention or index anything that comes after this symbol.

PWA SEO and Discoverability

Source: Pexels (CC0 License)

Security

PWAs are more secure when you compare them to normal website apps because they have to run with HTTPS. These protocols ensure that absolutely no exchanges between the server and client are hackable. If you have a secure environment you can be confident that when your customers enter their personal details or credit card, they are safe in doing so. 

On the other hand, when you have a native application, you have the option to build in a lot of different security measures. If your app does require some kind of login, then you can easily implement tools like multi-factor authentication to ensure security. Users are also way more likely to trust in an app they found on a Web Store as opposed to a URL as all apps are required to pass through the store’s security requirements before they get published.

For Users: The Difference Between PWA and Native Apps

So now you know the difference between PWA apps and native apps from a developer perspective, it’s time to move onto the differences from a user point of view.

Difference between PWA and Native App

Source: Pexels (CC0 License)

Installation

Did you know that the average mobile user installs on average, less than one app every few months? A lot of this comes down to the fact that it requires a lot of commitment to get to the end of the installation process. Users have to find the app in the store, wait for the download and installation to complete, and provide the app with any necessary permissions before they ever open it. From there, they may use the app once or twice before it gets deleted. When users uninstall an app, there’s a high chance that they will not come back. 

One of the primary concerns that a lot of people think about when they install an app is how much memory it takes up. Progressive web apps require no installation. When you look at the browser, visitors can easily bookmark and then add the application to their home screen. The PWA will show on the home screen, in their app directory, and it will also send notifications. In addition to this, progressive apps do not take up as much space when compared to full apps. With a URL, visitors can access and share the app with their friends too.

Updates

PWAs tend to be up to date most of the time because it loads up from a server without any action from the user. Native apps need to be updated on both sides, meaning the company who developed the app has to make sure that they are fixing any bugs or security flaws, and the user needs to make sure that they download the latest version to ensure they have a good experience overall.

Performance

When you compare it to a mobile or even a responsive site, you will soon see that PWAs are able to load much faster. At the heart of any PWA are scripts that run in the background that are completely separate from the website page. You can manage requests, prefetch, and even cache responses or sync data. This is all done through a remote server. This means that after your app has been added to the home screen, you can load it up instantly and can even use it offline or in poor network conditions (more on this in a second). The one issue is that PWAs run from a browser and this means that there can often be latency, or more battery consumption when compared to a native app. Because native apps can tie into the operating system, your hardware can deliver a better experience. Native code is faster and a native app, when you break it all down, is actually more powerful.

Because native apps must be developed for the specific device you are using it on, they can easily leverage platform-specific tools and take full advantage of all the features that are provided by the operating system. When you have a PWA, you can’t take full advantage of these features, so native apps tend to function better overall for this very reason. Native apps are more expensive to make, but the benefits of them do make them worth the money if you want to fully commit to making your app performance the best that it can be on every device.

Offline Functionality

If you are a PWA user, you can enjoy the benefits of offline mode because PWAs function in even the weakest network conditions. The connected pages can easily show whatever precached content that is available. This is done through service workers, which will refer to any Javascript components that are able to manage the requests or the transactions between a server and the user. 

A native application can also show your content and functionality that was cached when a connection was present. This can be done through local data storage, but it can also be done through cloud data synchronization. Many native applications are built with full offline functionality.

PWA Offline Functionality

Source: Pexels (CC0 License)

Geofencing

One advantage afforded to native apps is something known as “geofencing.”

Geofencing essentially helps developers set up virtual boundaries. When a user steps into one of these pre-defined boundaries, the downloaded application can trigger an action on the phone. When you combine this feature with push notifications, you will see that geofencing gives users the chance to get useful, real-time updates which help developers engage with their users.

For example, geofencing could be used by businesses to make customers aware of in-store promotions as soon as you are near the store. Geofencing can also be used to craft better targeted ads, location-based features in apps like Snapchat or Pokemon GO, and much more.

Additional Features

Customer engagement is much more effective when you know that your app has access to a user’s device. When you have this kind of access, you have a fantastic marketing tool which will help you to inspire interest. The app can be used to reach out to a very specific target audience and it also means that you can pick out a time, location, or anything else to trigger notifications. 

Native apps and PWAs have the ability to access device features. This can include your NFC, GPS, camera, accelerometer, and media player. A progressive web app has some restrictions when it comes to your device. It can vary depending on the device you are using. If you are using an Android, then you will have more access to the features when compared to those who are on an iOS. A lot of these crucial details will depend on who you want to market to, but at the end of the day, it will really help you to know differences like this when it comes to your app launch.

PWA Can Access Device Features Like Native Apps

Source: Pexels (CC0 License)

When to Use a PWA vs. a Native App

Both native apps and PWA apps fit and cover a huge range of business requirements. Before you go ahead and make the decision as to which one you want to choose, it’s important for you to consider all of the resources you have so you can make the most out of your time and your money.

When to Use a PWA over a Native App

Source: Pexels (CC0 License)

When Should You Consider a PWA?

So, now that you know what a PWA is, in which situations would you benefit from choosing a PWA? If you have an e-commerce site and you want to try to better engage your clients or obtain new ones, but don’t have the resources to develop and maintain multiple applications across different storefronts, a PWA can help you to improve your strategy and customer retention.

A PWA app would also be a good solution if you want your app to reach a lot of people in a very short amount of time. PWAs are ideal if you are already able to reach a huge amount of people with your existing distribution channels, as it is easy for you to share a URL link or even earn a feature on Google search results.

If you’re a young business and want a very simple app to drive engagement for your users, PWAs don’t require any downloads or installation, but still allow you to interact with customers through things like push notifications.

At the end of the day, if you need one simple app that will work on a huge range of devices, then a PWA is likely the right choice for you thanks to their scalability and lower cost of entry for your business.

When Should You Consider a Native App?

You should think about investing in a native app if you have a complex product that will benefit from increased control over a user’s mobile device. This could include banking apps, or even social media, and dating platforms. These apps need to offer a deeper level of consistency across the board, so your team will benefit from the additional options afforded by building a native app.

A native app is preferable when creating high-security apps that will handle things like sensitive client data in industries such as finance, health, or banking. To provide an appropriate amount of security, the advanced control provided with a native app is required.

If you consider speed and user interface to be a key factor for your users, then a native app would be a better option. A native app will help you to get a much faster loading time as it uses the device’s operating system directly and it’s not at all constrained by the quality of the internet connection or the device’s operating system. This is especially the case if you are developing apps that rely on low latency, such as games or messengers. 

Credibility is another reason why you would want to consider a native app. If you want to build credibility for your brand, having a high-quality app published on a top store from Apple, Google or others will help you to boost your reliability in the eyes of customers.

A lot of people in this day and age want to try and take advantage of the latest smartphone features. Native apps are much better at exploiting device features like geofencing, sensor detection, and more.

What's the Best Choice?

PWA or Native: What is the Best Choice?

Source: Pexels (CC0 License)

Many big brands, including Starbucks, Twitter, and Uber have all chosen to make PWAs a part of their web strategy. Should you follow their lead? At the end of the day, there’s a lot of benefits to using a PWA over a native app, but there are also benefits to using a native app over a PWA.  It all comes down to the app that you are creating and the needs that you need to fulfill. That’s why the companies we outlined above have opted to offer both, so they can meet their user’s needs holistically.

If you want to try and create something that is quick and easy to set up, then a PWA would be the way to go, but if you want something that is going to serve your brand while sending out trust signals then it may be that a native app is the way to go. When you explore ideas like this, you will soon find that you can choose the right one for you.

If you need some additional help choosing which app type is the right for you, it helps to focus on your target audience so that you can find out what benefits you need to take advantage of the most. Little things like this can really help you to feel confident in your decision and it will also help you to come out on top when it comes to your traffic, engagement, and sales.

Still feeling lost? Get in touch and see how Teknicks can help guide your next project.

Topics: Internet Marketing, Web Design & Development, Usability & Conversion Optimization, SEO, HTTPS, UX, PWA, Native Apps

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