We live in a time where people are more connected than ever before, and mobile apps undoubtedly play a key role.

In fact, statistics show that people spend approximately 90% of their time using phone apps rather than browsers. As of late-2021, the average U.S. smartphone user also dedicated 5-6 hours a day to smartphone use. These numbers go to show that using a mobile app for growing your business’ exposure and marketing activities cannot be underrated.

However, it’s choosing the best type of app for your business where it gets difficult. 

Luckily we’re here to help make this decision easier for you! This article will guide you through a detailed comparison of three options – progressive web apps (PWAs), native, and hybrid apps. We’ll discuss how they differ, the advantages and drawbacks of each, and help you determine which app type is best for you and your business.

What is the difference between PWA, a native app, and a hybrid app?

Can PWA access native features? Is PWA better than native apps? And how do I convert PWA to a native app? To answer these and many other questions, let’s begin with an understanding of each of the three types of apps.

What is a Native App?

A native app, in the most basic terms, is an application that is designed and developed to run on a specific platform or device. If you’re reading this from a desktop, there’s a good chance you have at least one native program installed already, for example, a built-in calendar or email.

A native app on mobile is an application that is designed to work with a specific operating system (OS), such as iOS (for Apple devices) and Android (for others, like Samsung or Xiaomi). Native apps are built in the code language used on the device and its specific OS. For instance, developers use Objective-C or Swift to create iOS applications while using Java to develop Android applications.

Read also: PWA on iOS

native app for ios devices example

What is a Progressive Web App (PWA)?

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are web-based applications that mimic the functionalities and UX of native mobile apps. To emulate this mobile app experience, PWAs leverage a number of technologies and languages, such as Polymer, React, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs), and Ionic. From the non-tech app user’s perspective, the difference between a progressive web app and a native app is scarce, if not nonexistent. 

Finally, let’s see how native vs. PWA vs. hybrid applications compare.

What is a Hybrid App?

Hybrid apps combine web apps created to run on web browsers with native apps that have to be installed on the device and are developed for the specific OS. Hybrid mobile apps are most frequently constructed using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, after which they are incorporated into a native application. In order for them to run on the device, you need to utilize a specialized platform.

PWA vs. Native App vs. Hybrid App

Now that you know what each of the apps is in a nutshell, you’re likely wondering: what’s the difference between progressive web apps and native apps? Also, how do native and PWA vs. hybrid apps compare? 

Among others, the key differences lie in how they are installed, their device accessibility features, connection dependencies, and update deliveries. Let’s break down each of these in detail:

Native

  • Installation process: Since the app is installed directly on the device, installation steps include downloading an app from the app store, giving permissions, and signing in.
  • Access to device features: The app has unrestricted feature access to the device and has the ability to adapt and customize system settings.
  • Connection dependencies: Some of the functions of the app depend on a connection, while others don’t.
  • How updates are delivered: Before a new app is released, it must adhere to the rules of the particular app store it is using. Therefore, it takes longer for developers to propagate these application updates among consumers.

PWA

  • Installation process: Unlike native apps, Progressive Web Apps aren’t installed directly on the device. Instead, users visit the app developer’s website (or app store) and add the app to the home screen to launch the app.
  • Access to device features: This app has limited access to the device’s features.
  • Connection dependencies: This app is compatible with any connection by saving some of its features in offline usage mode. It’s then able to operate offline because of caching, which ensures that the interface and information are still accessible even without internet access.
  • How updates are delivered: Updates are instant and autonomous for all users without requiring app store approval.

Hybrid

  • Installation: Hybrid mobile apps are often developed using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, then embedded into native apps with the aid of specialized platforms. As a result, they function as apps rather than web pages and need to be installed on the device.
  • Access to device features: Hybrid apps are able to integrate with the device’s file system.
  • Connection dependencies: These apps can function offline. However, when connected, hybrid mobile apps are often slower than native applications, since the performance of the app depends on the speed of the browser.
  • How updates are delivered: As they are wrapped into native app code, hybrid apps follow the same update protocol as native apps, and may experience some delays in availability for users.

Read also: Single-page application vs. multiple-page application

PWA vs. Native App – differences for developers

As you can likely guess based on the above, the development of PWAs and native apps differ on several levels, and these developmental differences need consideration, too. Let’s have a look at some of these differences between PWA vs. native apps below.

Tech stack – differences in Languages

Progressive Web Apps are designed to run inside a browser, whereas native apps are built with the programming languages of each platform (Objective-C and Swift for iOS, Java for Android). Web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are used in PWA development instead of using native apps’ code.

PWAs are Cheaper and Faster to Develop

If you’re wondering what is the advantage of PWA progressive web apps over native apps, it’s definitely the cost of developing. In the case of native applications, you’ll have to know each language and create multiple variations for each operating system. This implies you’ll need at least two iOS and Android versions, as well as resources to maintain and update them. This may require a significant amount of time and money.

Whereas, a progressive web app is easier to build and modify. You may utilize a single codebase for various platforms rather than building an app from the ground up for each operating system. Additionally, you can use tools like Google Lighthouse to make your current website more responsive. With responsive design, all you have to do is create one version of the software and it will be identical on every device.

page speed score of a progressive web application

PWAs are Easier to Discover by Search Engines

Arguably, one of the more significant PWA vs. native pros and cons, when it comes to market exposure. Since native applications can’t be indexed, their content can’t appear in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). PWAs, on the other hand, function as a website and may be indexed by a search engine.

PWAs are More Secure

When you compare native applications to PWAs, PWAs are more secure because they must be run with HTTPS. These protocols ensure that no details between the server and user are hackable.

Native Apps Can Use All Platform-Specific Functionalities

Native apps have the advantage of being able to make use of platform-specific tools while still providing all of the features that are available through the OS. PWAs, on the other hand, do not have this luxury.

The Difference Between PWAs and Native Apps for Users

PWA and native apps don’t only differ from a developmental standpoint, but for users, too. There are several PWA vs. native pros and cons – let’s see how they compare now.

PWAs Have Better Discoverability and Easier Installation

Users can access PWA software from the website immediately instead of searching for it in the app store. All they have to do is visit the site and, if they decide to add the app to their device, a widget from the application will appear on their screen. These widgets look the same way as those for native apps downloaded from the app store.

Auto-Updates

When a user loads the newest version of the PWA app from the server, they are almost certainly using an up-to-date app. Unlike native apps, there’s no need to manually upgrade.

Performance

When compared to a mobile native app, you’ll notice that PWA load speeds are much quicker. The bones of any PWA have scripts that run in the background and are entirely separate from the website. This allows you to manage requests, prefetch, and even cache responses or sync data using scripts, all managed via a remote server. The result? A PWA loaded from the home screen will be ready to launch in an instant.

Offline Mode 

Data in PWAs is stored (cached). So, if you’re a PWA user, you can take advantage of offline mode, since this app functions with even the most unreliable networks. The linked pages may simply display any accessible precached material.

PWAs Use More Battery Power

One potential disadvantage to PWAs is that they run from the website. This might result in increased latency and battery usage in comparison to native apps.

When to Use a PWA vs. a Native App?

You might be wondering, which app solution is best for your business – a PWA or a native app? Each type has its own set of benefits and drawbacks to consider. To properly answer this, you will first need to consider your objectives, your resources, and how the application will work best with them.

Which Businesses Should Choose Progressive Web Apps?

Here are the two types which will undoubtedly benefit from this solution:

Small Businesses on a Budget

A progressive web app can generally be created without breaking the bank. It also won’t be too time-consuming to give your website’s PWA version a boost, as the users won’t need to install updates themselves to enhance their mobile app experience.

Offline Businesses Going Digital

PWA-enabled websites not only improve user experience and decrease support costs but also allow you to target specific audiences with a single click. PWAs might be a good option if your business is based solely on offline channels and you want to attract consumers, regardless of the type of device they use (either Android or iOS users). Additionally, as PWAs are known for high performance and have a lot of external tools you can use (like the above-mentioned Google Lighthouse), you don’t have to spend a lot of money to ensure effectiveness.

Which Businesses Should Choose Native Apps?

Here are three potential cases:

eCommerce stores

Consumers are getting more and more used to conducting online transactions from their phones. Utilizing native shopping apps can offer several useful capabilities such as fast checkout, push notifications about deals and order status, personalized product recommendations, and so on.

For example, Magento understands the need for native apps’ among their customers. They have developed a free mobile app builder module called Mininest for Magento 2 stores, to help convert an entire eCommerce website into a completely native app with ease.

mininest - mobile app builder model

Big Businesses With Branding Goals

If you’re a well-known brand that needs to make a statement on different app stores in order to improve your brand reputation and take a strong stance against competitors, a native mobile app might be your best solution. However, bear in mind that even large corporations find Progressive Web Apps useful as an addendum to native apps due to certain benefits.

The new Pinterest mobile web experience is a PWA and a great example. By keeping JavaScript bundles lean using Native App functionalities, they also adopted Service Workers PWA functionalities for network resilience. The result? Apps that are able to load quickly on mobile devices.

progressive web application example: pinterest

Businesses That Need Access to Device Features

Only native apps allow for user access and permissions to take advantage of OS features. An example of this is if you want to create a selfie app – the device owner first needs to grant you permission to use their phone’s camera. Hence, it’s worth considering what features you want to build. Are there any functionalities where you’ll need to use the phone’s other apps or hardware? If so, you might need to develop a native app.

PWA vs. Hybrid App vs. Native App: What’s the Best Choice?

With your newfound understanding of the difference between a hybrid, progressive web app, and native app options, your next question might be: “what’s the verdict?”. 

Let’s help you find an answer below.

A PWA is best suited if:

  • You want an app that supports many operating systems, but you lack the time and money to create separate native apps for each OS.
  • You want to reach a large number of users as quickly as possible. For example, when you own an eCommerce or department store and want to drive traffic to your website quickly, for users of both iOS and Android devices.
  • Your app needs offline capabilities that work regardless of internet connection strength.
  • A high online presence and maintaining top performance is your goal.

A native app is best suited if:

  • You want an app that takes advantage of each OSs’ functionalities.
  • You have a team of developers for each operating system and the time to develop separate apps simultaneously.
  • Your app requires complex architecture or technical capabilities (for example, apps developed for banking or finance), and needs extensive access to the user’s device.

A hybrid app is best suited if:

  • You would like a solution that encompasses the benefits of both native and PWA apps.
  • You want your app to be optimized for multiple platform-specific functionalities.
  • Your goal is to have an app that functions like a native app and isn’t powered from a website.
  • Increased integration and access to a user’s device are needed.
  • You require in-depth adaptations with blends of native and PWA functions, and you have the time and money to do so.

So, what’s our take? 

While Progressive Web Apps aren’t a one-size-fits-all remedy, we at Neoteric believe in the solution wholeheartedly, and encourage you to look at its possibilities for your app’s development.

PWA vs.Native App vs. Hybrid App – key takeaways

A Progressive Web App is a wonderful alternative for both native and hybrid apps. Of course, each solution has its benefits and drawbacks, but if you want a solution that is fast to develop, simple to set up, and supports multiple operating systems, then PWAs are the way to go.

If this sounds like the perfect solution for your app needs, be sure to look at our range of web app development services or reach out! Our team will be happy to discuss whether creating a PWA would be the best fit for you, and how we can further assist you with your app development.

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