The PWA vs native app debate is one that is gaining popularity. As more companies become familiar with the benefits of PWA development, this alternative becomes a strong competitor to traditional app development projects involving native apps.
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This does not mean that native apps are anywhere close to losing their dominant position in the app market. It does mean, however, that companies now have additional choices to make when deciding on the technologies they will use. Thus, understanding the differences between a PWA and a native app is an important consideration. For some companies, a PWA is a perfect alternative.
In this post we discuss the pros and cons of PWAs vs native apps so that you can decide which alternative works best for your company.
When it comes to apps, there are different ways in which they can be classified. Depending on the criteria used to make the distinction, apps can be classified according to the technology they use, the device they run on, the operating system, the programming language, and even the backend configuration, just to name a few.
These are some of the most common app types:
One of the most popular types of apps is what is known as a ‘native app’. This is probably the app most people are familiar with, even if they don’t know it. The majority of a native app’s processes run directly on a device, although some of them can be relocated to servers that operate on the cloud. It is common to refer to a native app as a mobile app, but a native app can also be designed for other devices like tablets and desktop computers.
Native apps are very popular because they can offer a powerful User Experience (UX) thanks to development tools that can access directly a device’s software and hardware features. As a result, a native app can make use of a device’s camera, Bluetooth, and other key hardware elements in a unique way, something that other apps often have difficulty doing.
Most companies tend to think that they need a native app. The truth is that, more than a specific type of app, it is important to deliver a digital product that solves specific problems. Only when the solution to a problem is thought out is it convenient to start thinking about the right type of app. Although each project is unique, it is best to address the app development process and the decision to build a native or not in a systematic way.
Depending on the problem that needs to be solved, certain programming languages and tech stacks might be more convenient than others. This type of decision can strongly influence the type of app needed for a specific project.
In contrast to native apps we have cloud apps, where the majority of computer processes occur on the cloud. Most cloud apps are also known as web apps because they run mostly on the web and are executed on a user’s device through a browser with the use of various web technologies.
The thing with this type of app is that, because they sometimes do not have access to a device’s native capabilities, some features are not available. This means that certain limitations exist as to what a web app can do. In theory, web apps are also mobile apps because they can easily run on a mobile device, but they are rarely referred to as such.
However, web development for mobile has improved, and as a result, we now have better User Experiences when using web solutions on mobile devices, even if limitations still exist. These limitations are not necessarily a bad thing. In the end, whether it is a negative thing or not depends on what the purpose of the app is.
Certain web apps might be better suited for certain tasks and business conditions. In particular, a web app might be a perfect solution for companies that wish to deliver cross-platform solutions in a cheaper and more device responsive and friendly way. This last is a great alternative when the operating system should not be a constraint to the User Experience.
Progressive Web Apps (PWA)
As mentioned before, a native app runs mostly on a device, thus, it has access to most of the device’s local features. On the contrary, a web app runs mostly on the cloud, and because it does not have access to the device itself, it has a limited set of features. A Progressive Web App, also known as a PWA, is somewhere in between the two. This allows the possibility to make the best of both worlds.
PWAs are a great way to take advantage of native and web technologies. They have the power to use some of the best features of a native and a web app, helping deliver a User Experience somewhere between these two types of apps. Because of this, many companies are starting to consider them as a great alternative to native apps, which are often more expensive to develop. In order to understand this phenomenon, it is important to look at the positive and negative aspects of native apps and PWAs.
PWA vs Native Apps: Pros
Positive Aspects of Native Apps
A positive aspect of native apps is that they can use a device’s processing power and native features at the fullest to deliver a powerful User Experience. This means that, if a user has an iOS device, like an iPhone or an iPad, or some other device like a powerful Android phone, an app can easily be executed. However, this does not always occur if the device becomes too old or if, mostly for the case of Android devices, there is not enough processing power. In other words, how well an app runs depends ultimately on the device itself.
Positive Aspects of PWAs
How well a PWA runs does not depend exclusively on the device itself, because an important part of its processes run on the cloud. This makes it very convenient for users that do not have powerful devices but still want to execute an app. Additionally, because a PWA can be executed through a browser, it is a cross-platform friendly alternative; it can run on multiple operating systems, reaching a wider audience than an OS-specific app.
A major point in favor of PWAs is that they can use push notifications, but this ultimately depends on whether a PWA is used on a mobile device or on a desktop, as the latter sometimes does not support push notifications through browsers.
Lastly, two things worth mentioning about PWAs are their low price when compared to native apps, and the PWA offline friendliness. This last is possible because, since they can cache information on the browser, they can work without an internet connection, even if only in a limited manner.
PWA vs Native Apps: Cons
Negative Aspects of Native Apps
Probably the aspect that most companies find problematic when developing a native app is its price. The cost of developing a native app can vary considerably depending on the type of project, but, in general, it is not cheap.
Another disadvantage is that the performance of a native app depends ultimately on a specific device’s processing power. Developing an iOS app should not be a problem in this sense, but an Android one may be one depending on your users’ devices. If your goal is to guarantee a superb User Experience, then this needs to be considered.
Negative Aspects of PWAs
One of the main disadvantages of a PWA is that it has limited functionality when it comes to accessing a device’s hardware features. However, this has been improving in recent years and it is expected to keep doing so.
Also, a PWA, although similar to a native app in some aspects, is not the same as one. This means that the User Experience can sometimes fall short, even if it is better than a traditional web app. Ultimately, it depends on what the app wants to do.