These days, people spend more time on mobile devices with the internet connection, statistics showing, users consume twice the amount of content on such devices. This is an excellent opportunity for businesses and website owners to engage people and improve their online experience. They’ve started focusing on what would be the best way to enhance customer experience instead of pondering over whether they should target mobile users.
Just a few years ago, businesses could either stay only on the web or develop a native application when it meant mobile app development. But now, they can opt for Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which are affordable and come without any hiccups. PWAs take a midway approach between native apps and mobile websites. Before we look into the differences between native apps and PWAs, let us briefly define these two.
We can define a native app as a software program that can be installed directly on a mobile device and usually works even if there is no internet connectivity. Users can download a native app from an app store and add to their mobile devices’ home screens.
Now, let’s look at ten key factors that differentiate native apps from PWAs. Each of them has its pros and cons, with clear use cases existing for each.
The most obvious difference between native apps and PWAs is the way a user accesses them. Native apps can be downloaded from app stores and installed on mobile devices where they appear as icons on home screens. Therefore, a native app needs to be submitted to an app store for consideration and acceptance. It is the users’ job to find the app and determine whether it is worth downloading on to their mobile devices.
PWAs help users in skirting all such administrative formalities of app stores as these web apps run directly from the browser of mobile devices. A PWA can be accessed by searching for it in the mobile browser. It can be easily saved or added on home screens, similar to a native app.
Native apps are tailor-made for either the iOs or Android platforms. Native app developers focus on crafting the app for one specific platform and need not worry much about compatibility with other browsers and platforms. Native apps are more inclined to create a better user-friendly experience as this mobile app development is a particular platform-oriented.
PWAs have evolved out of web technology that’s been around for some time now. PWA developers create and publish the apps’ responsive instance, following which it is the job of the devices’ browser to display it correctly on the screen. In the case of PWAs, just a single app needs to be developed for use across a wide range of mobile browsers. Therefore, PWAs are time & cost savior, as one progressive web app functions seamlessly on both iOS and Android, including browsers.
However, a PWA can only provide certain features of the app to users when they are offline. For instance, something that is not part of the natural caching system of a page will not be available offline. Hence, although the technology of PWAs is advancing, they have not reached the level of native apps where users can stay connected even when there is no internet connectivity.
Storage, data and power
A native app functions by directly using power, storage space and data from a mobile device once installed. Apps that are frequently used and are resource-heavy, drain consistently from the mobile device. However, PWAs such as the Safari app also cause similar drainage issues. Hence, it all depends on how well-coded is the app, the number of resources it uses and its actual usage.
A PWA is ideal for regions where the data network charges are high, and users can ill afford them, or for the places with connectivity issues. Some native apps can also address these problems by enabling users to work and store content for offline use.
All apps have the users and the developer’s points of view when it comes to viewing updates. However, all updates for both native apps and PWAs come from the developer’s side, and users can do nothing about it apart from giving suggestions. Furthermore, the app updating process is mostly automated, and users will hardly know when there has been an update. A native app requiring a manual update is a highly uncommon requirement.
Native apps can be discovered within app stores or in search engines. But as app pages cannot be indexed and listed in search engines, a developer has to take recourse to App Store Optimization (ASO), a process to optimize the search process. This includes identifying a popular, app store-friendly keyword that exactly describes your mobile app and incorporating it in the app title and description. Making the app’s description appealing to app stores, users are another method to improve the chances of discovery.
Seeking out customer reviews is another significant way to enhance your app’s discovery quotient. Using the categorization feature of the app store properly will also help drive traffic toward your app. If the app is niche and specifically labeled, it will appear more often in app store search results.
Meanwhile, as a PWA works like websites we find online, the web search SEO process is sufficient to help in discovering it. A PWA can also provide links to relevant pages within the app. Since users are offered instant use opportunity by a PWA, traffic volumes may be higher compared to native apps in an app store.
This feature offered by mobile apps is enticing many websites and businesses to build these applications. Push notification features in apps can generate up to 40% user visits compared to 20% in traditional methods such as email. Effective push notifications can help generate more visits to your mobile app and greater engagement with your content. A native app can be easily integrated with existing push notification solutions provided by third-party push notification services such as Google Firebase and OneSignal.
Service workers and their ongoing development have enabled the use of push notifications in PWAs as well in Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Mac Safari. However, this support is not available on iOS as of yet.
Native apps offer a secure solution to both app owners and users, as it is easier to use multi-factor authentication in them. Certificate pinning can also be used in native apps to prevent certain types of attacks, but PWAs and other in-browser apps cannot do so. However, as PWAs are served over HTTPS, this enables browser-to-server encryption. A PWA can be as secure as any good website if the owner has created a secure environment for it.
But native apps must be first authorized by either Apple or Google before they get published on the iOS and Google app stores. This means apps available in these stores are highly trustworthy.
Even so, the decision to go for either a native app or a PWA is a personal choice as security is always a delicate subject when building anything online. What we can say at this juncture is that native apps have the potential to be more secure than PWAs.
Native apps can use device features such as camera, GPS, compass, contact list, calendar and SMS and push notifications. Some native apps seek user permission to send push notifications as well as the choice to opt-in at a later date.
PWAs do not offer a specific set of features and can be looked upon as a toolkit that can potentially use device features. We do not need to add access to devise features in PWAs, and as official websites, they can have similar restrictions. PWAs can be programmed to make connections such as social media logins for enhancing user experience.
Hence, native apps are more preferred over PWAs if you are developing an app that can use all the features in mobile devices.
PWAs are basically web apps built using any one of several frameworks along with service workers. They also require considerable investment in research and development as many features that native apps provide need to be replicated. Even so, the cost of building a PWA is quite low, from as little as $3,000 to $35,000.
Factors such as performance and design quality also need to be considered when deciding between a native app and a PWA. However, it is the quality of coding that is of prime importance. So, before deciding which alternative to choose, it is best to ensure that coding quality can match up to what you expect to deliver with your app.
Principal Mobile App Developer