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PWA vs. Native Apps: A Comparison

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Development
15 min read
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The battle between progressive web apps (PWAs) and native apps has captivated developers and businesses. With the increasing number of smartphone users worldwide and the projected growth of the app market expected to skyrocket to US$673.80 billion in 2027, companies face the question of whether to build a PWA or a native app.

PWAs are web apps that work seamlessly on any device, offering a native-like experience with the convenience of a website. On the other hand, native apps are platform-specific applications installed through app stores, optimized for the hardware and software capabilities of a particular platform.

Understanding the differences between PWAs and native apps, as well as their pros and cons, is crucial in determining the best mobile strategy. 

Key Takeaways:

  • PWAs are web apps that work on any device and offer a native-like experience.
  • Native apps are platform-specific applications installed through app stores.
  • PWAs are cost-effective and compatible with multiple platforms.
  • Native apps provide better integration, monetization options, and app store visibility.
  • The choice between PWA and native apps depends on business goals and target audience.

What are PWAs and Native Apps?

In the world of mobile applications, two key mobile application types are Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and native apps. While both serve the purpose of providing a mobile experience to users, there are fundamental differences in their functionality and implementation.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

Progressive Web Apps are web applications that can be accessed on any device through a browser. What sets PWAs apart is their ability to provide a native-like experience without the need for installation. PWAs leverage web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and can be easily shared through URLs. They offer cross-platform compatibility and can work seamlessly on any device, be it a smartphone, tablet, or desktop.

Native Apps

Native apps, on the other hand, are platform-specific applications that need to be installed through app stores. These apps are built using native programming languages like Swift for iOS and Kotlin for Android, enabling them to take full advantage of the capabilities of a particular operating system. Native apps are optimized for the device’s hardware and software, ensuring a more integrated, performant, and user-friendly experience.

The Difference Between Progressive Web Apps and Native Mobile Apps

The main difference between PWAs and native apps lies in their implementation and functionality. PWAs offer cross-platform compatibility and can be accessed through a browser, making them versatile and accessible on any device. Native applications, on the other hand, provide a more integrated and optimized experience by leveraging the specific capabilities of a particular platform.

While PWAs have the benefit of working across multiple platforms, native apps excel in providing a seamless user experience, taking advantage of advanced features offered by the operating system. The choice between PWA and native apps largely depends on the specific requirements and goals of the application in question.

Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

Native Apps

Accessible through a browser on any device

Installed through app stores

Leverage web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript

Built with native programming languages like Swift or Kotlin

Work across multiple platforms (cross-platform compatibility)

Optimized for a specific platform (platform-specific)

Can be easily shared through URLs

Offer a more integrated and optimized experience

Examples of PWAs

Progressive Web Apps represent a blend of web and mobile app experiences. They are increasingly adopted by leading companies to provide users with fast, engaging, and reliable experiences on the web. Here are a few notable examples:

  1. Twitter Lite: Designed to deliver a faster, more data-efficient mobile experience, Twitter Lite is a PWA that offers the core functionalities of Twitter to users worldwide, even on slow networks.
  2. Uber: The Uber PWA provides a ride-hailing experience accessible on low-end devices and spotty networks, ensuring users can book rides without needing to download a native app.
  3. Pinterest: Pinterest launched its PWA to increase engagement and time spent on its mobile website. The PWA provides a fast, app-like experience for users, leading to significant growth in user engagement and ad revenue.
  4. Starbucks: The Starbucks PWA offers an order-ahead feature and a rewards program, mimicking the native app’s functionality. It allows users to browse the menu, customize orders, and add items to their cart offline.

These examples showcase how PWAs can provide seamless user experiences, rivaling native apps while ensuring accessibility across devices and network conditions.

Examples of Native Apps

Native apps are developed specifically for a platform using its native development tools and languages, such as Swift for iOS and Kotlin for Android. These apps can leverage the full potential of the device’s hardware and software. Here are some examples of well-known native apps:

These native apps highlight the advantage of developing specifically for iOS or Android, allowing for a more integrated, high-performance user experience that fully utilizes the capabilities of the user’s device.

Pros and Cons of PWAs

PWAs (Progressive Web Apps) offer several advantages and disadvantages compared to native apps. Understanding the pros and cons of PWAs can help you make an informed decision about your mobile app strategy.

Pros of PWAs

Cons of PWAs

Pros and Cons of Native Apps

With their ability to harness native device features and deliver seamless interactions, native apps have become the gold standard for many mobile app developers and users alike. However, alongside their undeniable benefits come inherent challenges and limitations that warrant careful consideration. 

Pros of Native Apps

Cons of Native Apps

Use Cases of PWAs

PWAs offer a wide range of use cases, making them versatile and suitable for various industries and user needs. Let’s explore some of the most popular use cases of PWAs:

News and Media

News and media companies can leverage PWAs to deliver a fast and immersive mobile experience to their users. With PWAs, news updates and media content can be delivered instantly, allowing users to stay up-to-date with the latest stories and engage with multimedia content seamlessly. The responsive nature of PWAs ensures that users can access news and media content on any device while enjoying a consistent user experience.

Travel and Hospitality

PWAs are particularly beneficial for companies in the travel and hospitality industry. With real-time updates and location-based services, PWAs enable travel and hospitality companies to provide users with relevant and up-to-date travel information. Whether it’s flight updates, hotel bookings, or recommendations for local attractions, PWAs offer a convenient and personalized experience for travelers.

Banking and Finance

In the banking and finance industry, PWAs can be used to offer users a secure and convenient way to access their accounts and perform transactions. With features like biometric authentication and real-time updates on account balances and transactions, PWAs provide users with a seamless and efficient banking experience. Users can access their financial information on the go without the need to download a separate app.

Health and Fitness

Health and fitness companies can benefit from PWAs by providing users with interactive and personalized experiences. PWAs can help with healthcare mobile development by offering workout routines, track fitness progress, provide personalized meal plans, and send reminders and notifications to help users stay on track with their health and fitness goals. The convenience of accessing these features through a web browser makes PWAs an attractive option for users seeking a holistic health and fitness experience.

Industry

Use Case

News and Media

Fast and responsive mobile experience

Travel and Hospitality

Real-time updates and location-based services for travel information

Banking and Finance

Secure access to accounts and convenient financial transactions

Health and Fitness

Interactive and personalized experiences for users

Use Cases of Native Apps

Native apps have a wide range of use cases, catering to various industries and user needs. Let’s explore some of the popular use cases of native apps:

Healthcare

Many healthcare organizations rely on mHealth mobile apps for patient care, telehealth, telemedicine, and other uses.

E-commerce

Native apps are commonly used by e-commerce software businesses, providing a convenient platform for customers to make purchases directly from their mobile devices. These apps offer seamless browsing, personalized recommendations, and secure payment options, enhancing the overall shopping experience.

Social Media

Popular social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are prime examples of native apps. They allow users to easily access their social networks, connect with friends, share content, and stay updated in real time. Native apps offer optimized user interfaces and intuitive features for a seamless social media experience.

Gaming

Gaming apps are another prominent use case for native apps. They provide immersive and high-performance experiences, utilizing the device’s hardware capabilities to deliver graphics-intensive gameplay. Native gaming apps offer features like multiplayer functionality, in-app purchases, and real-time updates, catering to gamers’ needs.

Education

Native apps have become a valuable tool in the education sector. Educational institutions, schools, and universities leverage native apps to deliver interactive and personalized learning experiences. These apps offer access to course materials, quizzes, and notifications, and facilitate communication between students and instructors.

Productivity

Productivity apps designed for business professionals and individuals seeking efficiency are a popular use case for native apps. They offer features like task management, document editing, collaboration tools, calendar integration, and reminders, improving productivity and organization in daily tasks and work-related activities.

Entertainment

Native apps cater to the entertainment needs of users, providing access to streaming services for music, movies, TV shows, and podcasts. These apps offer personalized recommendations, offline download options, and interactive features, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable entertainment experience.

Use Cases

Description

E-commerce

Allows customers to make purchases directly from their mobile devices, offering a seamless shopping experience.

Social Media

Enables users to access social networks, connect with friends, and share content in real time.

Gaming

Provides immersive and high-performance gaming experiences with multiplayer functionality and in-app purchases.

Education

Aids educational institutions in delivering interactive and personalized learning experiences to students.

Productivity

Enhances productivity through features like task management, document editing, and collaboration tools.

Entertainment

Offers access to streaming services for music, movies, TV shows, and podcasts, providing a personalized entertainment experience.

Conclusion

When it comes to choosing between PWAs and native apps, the decision should be based on several factors that align with your business goals and target audience. If you’re looking for a cost-effective solution that provides cross-platform compatibility and SEO-friendliness, then a PWA may be the right choice. 

On the other hand, if your focus is on integration, supported tools, monetization, app store visibility, security, and battery consumption, native apps are the way to go. Native apps offer a seamless user experience, accessing advanced features that are tailored to the specific platform. They are perfect for building credibility and delivering a highly optimized experience.

In conclusion, while PWAs offer cost-effectiveness and cross-platform compatibility, native apps excel in integration and provide a more robust set of features. The decision between a PWA and a native app ultimately depends on your specific requirements and goals. 

If you’re looking for help with your mobile app project, read more about Flatirons’ custom mobile app development services.

FAQ

What is the difference between PWA and native apps?

Progressive web apps (PWAs) are web-based applications that offer app-like experiences, while native apps are developed for a specific platform, such as iOS or Android, using the platform’s native language and tools.

How do PWAs and native apps differ in terms of development?

PWAs are built using web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, while native apps are developed using platform-specific languages like Swift for iOS or Java/Kotlin for Android.

What are the advantages of PWAs over native apps?

PWAs have benefits such as lower development costs compared to native apps, cross-platform compatibility, and the ability to work offline or on low-quality networks.

In what scenarios would building a native app be preferable to a PWA?

Native apps are preferred when there is a need for complex functionalities, access to specific device features, or the requirement for optimal performance and speed.

Can PWAs replace native apps entirely?

While PWAs offer a lot of benefits, they may not completely replace native apps, especially in cases where intensive hardware or OS-specific functionalities are crucial.

Do PWAs have an advantage in terms of app store optimization compared to native apps?

Yes, PWAs have an advantage as they do not need to adhere to the strict guidelines and approval processes of native app stores, which can make them more easily discoverable.

How do native apps and PWAs differ in terms of user experience?

Native apps generally provide smoother and more responsive user experiences due to their direct access to device hardware and features, which PWAs may not fully utilize.

What are the potential drawbacks of choosing native apps over PWAs?

Native apps often incur higher development and maintenance costs, require separate codebases for different platforms, and are subject to longer release and update cycles.

Are PWAs better than native apps for certain types of applications?

PWAs are particularly advantageous for content-focused or e-commerce applications, as they can offer seamless browsing experiences and faster load times, benefiting both users and businesses.

Cross-Platform Mobile Development Services

Reach a wider audience with Flatirons' cross-platform mobile development services, ensuring your app delivers a consistent and engaging user experience across all devices.

Learn more

Cross-Platform Mobile Development Services

Reach a wider audience with Flatirons' cross-platform mobile development services, ensuring your app delivers a consistent and engaging user experience across all devices.

Learn more
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