First things first, we’re a web and mobile development agency, and we build a lot of native apps and PWAs every year.
Let’s quickly sum up what we mean under PWAs and native apps in this post.
A native mobile app is an app that is distributed through app stores and requires installation. You build them using the platform's native development technologies and tools, such as Objective-C/Swift for iOS and Java/Kotlin for Android. Such apps run smoothly on mobile operating systems and have all the necessary data to work offline.
Now, if you're considering whether you should go with a native app or a progressive web app, let's take a look at them from the business' and users' points of view.
The business perspective
First of all, PWAs are cheaper to build.
With a web app, you write one codebase that will work for both mobile and desktop platforms. So you need a smaller team of developers, and it's generally easier to hire a web app developer just because there are more of them.
With native apps, you're building two different versions of the app for iOS and Android, so you'll need to assemble two engineering teams and get them to work simultaneously to reach the same development speed as with PWAs. And even then, once you decide to expand your product to more platforms, you'll need to write another codebase for each one of them.
Then, PWAs are easier to distribute and find.
Since web apps live on the web, they are easy to be found, indexed, and listed by search engines. When you have a single codebase, it's easier to do SEO stuff with it, or simply add more content to the section presenting and promoting your product to increase the number of keywords and phrases it can be found by.
Also, you can even distribute PWAs through app stores. With Apple, you need to utilize the WebView mode to publish it as a simple browser launching a specific URL. With Google Play, you'll use Bubblewrap to generate a Trusted Web Activity to submit into the store.
While Apple has specific restrictions for HTML5 apps, Google applies the same rules for both PWAs and native apps.
Native apps live in the app stores, which have their own web fronts, so your app will still be findable via search engines. A mobile app agency can use various existing app store optimization techniques to positively affect the product's page ranking both in the app store and search engines. But those possibilities are limited and can't guarantee you a competitive edge because your competitors have most probably utilized them already.
Native apps are more secure.
Progressive web apps run under HTTPS by default, which is a great measure to secure your users' data. This protocol ensures nobody can tamper with the communication taking place between the client and the server, so users can send their sensitive data, such as credit card details or their personal information, through your app.
There are also limited security measures that you can take regarding such things as PWA manifests and service workers, but other than that, the security of web apps is ensured by the security of mobile browsers, which are maintained by Google and Apple.
A native app allows putting much more effort into its security. Some of them are optional, while others are included in the app stores' security requirements.
Also, native apps have access to the platform's functionality, which means you can introduce things like multi-factor authentication through the face or fingerprint recognition.
And while HTTPS encrypts only the communication between the client and the server, with native apps, you decide how exactly you want to encrypt data, not to mention that you also have control over encrypting the files the app saves on the device, database entries, and a few other sorts of information.
The user perspective
PWAs are easier to use.
First of all, they don't require installation. A user requires only a couple of taps to save the URL on their home screen. Once it's done, it'll act just like the native app: it will send notifications and get integrated into system settings.
Moreover, since PWA is opened via a URL, it's easy to share it with friends. And there's no need to update it, as the latest version is downloaded from the server on every launch.
Native apps are completely the opposite: they require lots of Internet traffic to be downloaded, and whenever a new feature is introduced, the users need to redownload the complete app package to get it. And with modern web and mobile app development methodologies, popular apps get updates on a weekly or biweekly basis, even if they include only minor fixes.
Another problem with native apps is that sometimes apps for different platforms can differ in functionality. This might happen because of many reasons: the development of the version for a specific platform started much later, or the team is a couple of sprints behind its 'competitors'.
Native apps show better performance.
Progressive web apps can feel like they work really fast. The user taps the link and the app launches immediately thanks to the service workers running in the background and managing things like data caching and synchronization. It is the workers that allow the app to work offline or when the network is poor.
However, the performance of web apps is limited by the performance of web browsers. And browsers consume battery and have a latency. So if you want to deliver resource-consuming games via a browser, you implement them as a streaming service with the game actually running on a different machine rather than your device.
Unlike PWAs, native apps can leverage the full power of the mobile operating system and get direct access to the device's hardware. That means faster calculations, better user experience, and overall supreme performance allowing developers to build dynamic actionable games like PUBG or Genshin Impact natively.
One Simple Way to Get The Difference Between PWAs and Native Apps
Today, it seems like everything can be done for the web. If Facebook, Slack, and even Xbox are there, then what cannot be there?
However, when we're comparing PWAs versus native apps, it all comes down to the question of hardware utilization. Web app developers don't have access to most parts of the device's hardware because of security issues.
Let's say, we want to have notifications. With web apps, you'll have them done via service workers, though the web browser APIs defining their behavior may differ. And in the case of iOS, web push notifications are expected to come only in version 15.4 (coming in spring 2022).
With native apps, you can implement them manually or take advantage of the third-party service.
However, if you want your app to notify the users regarding some geolocation-based events (like getting into or out of a specified zone), then PWAs fall short here as they don't have access to the GPS hardware. Just as they can't interact with the ambient light detector, the proximity sensor, etc.
If you want to allow mobile payments via the NFC chip, it’s again a no go for PWAs.
And if you want your app to interact with other apps, like make calls, or add events to the calendar, only a native app can do that at the moment.
Instead of a Wrap-up: A Comparison Table
So should you go with a progressive web app or a native app?
To find out the answer, check your app requirements against this list and you'll see which option has more pros and thus is preferable.
However, note that there can always be something that you can miss when estimating the development efforts. As a software and web development company, we recommend sharing your idea with tech experts to consider every nook and cranny before making any decisions on its realizations.