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PWA vs. Native App - Which is better in 2023? 

PWA vs. Native App - Which is better in 2023? 
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Mobile responsiveness is the key to building modern apps as more customers browse and shop from their smartphones. However, the debate revolving around PWA vs. native apps continues to rage amongst developers, startup founders, and product managers alike. 

Andrew Gazdecki, CEO of Bizness Apps, suggested that progressive web apps (PWA) will eventually replace native apps in 2018. Today, native apps remain an essential part of the mobile app ecosystem, but PWA has become more pronounced in the software industry. 

Both PWA and native apps are not mutually exclusive. The former is not designed to supersede the latter. Instead of questioning if one is better than another, it's wiser to understand their differences. Understanding how and when to use PWA or native apps in certain circumstances will lead to better results.

For example, we first launched our AI avatar creation app – Dyvo, with a PWA. We thought a shortened release cycle and getting user feedback were immediate priorities. Doing so allows us to plan for a native app bearing a richer user experience but with lesser risks. 

Read on and learn when PWA or native apps might fit your business needs.

Native App and PWA Defined

A native app is a mobile app developed specifically for the operating systems and the underlying hardware of a smartphone. These apps are distributed via marketplaces like Google Play Store, Apple App Store, and Amazon App Store. They are apps that users conventionally install on their smartphones.

PWA, or progressive web apps, are websites designed to function in similar ways as a native app does. A PWA runs from a browser and can be 'installed' on phones running the latest OS versions. Unlike a native app, a PWA is not platform-dependent, which means any smartphone can run a PWA from its browsers. 

PWA vs. Native App for Developers 

Consider the differences between PWA vs. native apps and their pros and cons when choosing one approach over the other. 

Languages

Despite running on mobile phones, both PWA and native apps are built with different tech stacks. Developing a PWA involves JavaScript, HTML, and CSS – familiar scripting languages that web developers use. Meanwhile, native apps are built with platform-specific language. For example, you use Objective-C or Swift to build an app for iOS and Java for Android. 

Cost

The PWA is considerably cheaper to build, deploy and maintain than its native counterpart. PWA runs on a single codebase, with most background processes operating on hosted servers. Meanwhile, developers must develop and maintain separate versions of codebases for iOS and Android. Furthermore, not all developers are proficient in both platforms, so companies must hire different teams to work on the same app. 

Distribution

Major marketplaces like Apple AppStore, Google Play Store, Microsoft Store, and Amazon App Store are distribution channels for native apps. These marketplaces regulate app listing with strict guidelines that developers must comply with. On the other hand, you can share a PWA via its URL, as it is basically a website with near-native capabilities. 

Security

Both PWA and native apps are inherently secure, albeit at different levels. PWAs use HTTPS to exchange data between the browser and server. HTTPS encrypts the underlying data to protect them from being spied on. It's commonly used by banking, e-commerce, and other non-commercial websites. 

However, native apps can incorporate more layers of robust security features. Besides embedding TLS certificates, you can introduce multi-factor authentication and certificate pinning to the app. Also, app stores conduct their own security checks, ensuring that developers comply with strict security standards. Customer sentiment also favors native apps, as they are likelier to trust apps vetted by app marketplaces than an unknown URL. 

Monetization

When building a PWA, you'll need to integrate with 3rd party payment gateways, such as Stripe. However, you can leverage the app store-supported payment system instead of additional integrations when you build a native app. 

Discoverability

Native apps heavily rely on App Store Optimization(ASO) to reach new users. For each marketplace, you'll need to do the necessary, such as: 

  • Optimizing description with keywords.
  • Use attractive images and videos. 
  • Get good reviews.
  • Categorization.

Even if you've done the above, it might take a while before your app ranks on the app store. You'll also need to repeat the process for different app marketplaces.

Marketing a PWA is, however, more straightforward. Like websites, you can optimize them to rank on search engines. Continuous engagement by users serves as a ranking factor, further improving the PWA's position for specific keywords.

PWA vs. Native App for users

For the untrained eyes of regular users, an installed PWA on the home screen may look the same as a native app. However, there are differences between progressive web apps and native apps, especially in user experience. 

Installation

To use a native app, users must download and install them from app stores. If the app developer only releases an Android version, iOS users will have no access to the app, and vice versa. Meanwhile, a PWA runs from the web browser and requires no installation. This allows users to enjoy the app's full functionality without taking up substantial mobile storage space. 

Performance

A native app wins hands down in this department as it has direct access to the operating system, software, and hardware resources. For example, native apps have an edge in performing complex calculations as they can easily tap into the smartphone's processing capability. 

Meanwhile, the PWA is confined to the performance capabilities of the browser it runs on. But this doesn't mean that PWA is slow. PWAs offer a considerably responsive experience where powerful servers run the background services. This benefits users with low to mid-range smartphones. 

Offline capability

Native apps can function without an internet connection because the core software components reside within the device. Of course, the app stills need to go online to synch the changes with the backend. 

However, a PWA requires an internet connection to work because it needs to retrieve most of the data from a server, just like a website does. Without one, it might fail to load correctly. 

Functionality

Native apps can access specific features that are beyond the limits of PWAs. For example:

  • Users can receive push notifications if they're using a native app. Native apps run in the background, even if they're accessing other applications. This allows the app to alert users of important events. 
  • Native apps can enable geo-location functionality with limited intervention from the users.
  • Mobile payment apps are native apps. They automatically manage, secure, and validate e-commerce transactions. 
  • Native apps can use a broad range of the phone's features, such as the camera, microphone, sensors, and NFC. 

When to Use a PWA vs. a Native App 

Choosing between a progressive web app vs. mobile app is not straightforward. The decision depends on your business needs, strategies and goals. Here's how to decide if a native app or PWA goes well with your plan.

Reasons to choose a PWA

  • A PWA is the better choice if you're planning to release an app in the shortest time. PWA development is faster and allows you to get feedback from the market quickly before moving forward. 
  • Use PWA if you're testing or building a simple app that doesn't need the smartphone's advanced features. Besides, it's easier to share a PWA across your existing channels. 
  • Most startups operate on a tight budget, which makes PWA an ideal option. 
  • Some companies build PWAs to increase their online visibility and brand presence. When optimized with SEO, the PWA ranks well on search engines and creates brand authority. 

 Reasons to choose a native app

  • If the app requires hardware functionalities such as sensors, NFC, and cameras, native apps are the only answer. 
  • Brands build native apps as a move to build trust amongst users. Native apps can be secured with robust security features, which is helpful in the health, financial, and banking industries. 
  • Native apps allow businesses to expand their reach by tapping into a ready user base on app stores. With proper ASO, they can increase conversions and revenue. 

What if you can get the best of both PWA and Native apps?

A thin boundary has long separated PWAs and native apps. In 2023, the boundary was further blurred when our team created Natively. Natively is an online tool that turns your web application into a native app. Once converted, you can publish the app on Apple AppStore and Google PlayStore.

Natively spares you from the trouble of developing and maintaining different codebases for Android and iOS. By developing the app once, you can distribute it on both platforms. Moreover, any changes on the web app are automatically updated to the respective native apps. 

Natively case study

We put Natively to the test in one of our recent projects - Dyvo. Dyvo is an AI-powered app that turns selfies into realistic digital avatars. Here's an in-depth case study about how we built Dyvo from scratch. 

With Natively, we accomplished the following results.

  • It took 4 weeks from ideation to release.
  • We took 480 man-hours to build the MVP.
  • 20,000+ users downloaded the native app from Apple AppStore and Google Play Store within the first month.
  • Another 65,000+ users signed up to Dyvo from the web application during the same period. 

To experience native apps built by Natively, try out Dyvo now.

On Android - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ai.dyvo.app

On iOS - https://apps.apple.com/us/app/ai-avatar-dyvo/id6444283048

Summary

The argument of native mobile app vs. web app is irrelevant because both are here to stay. Each is advantageous when matched with a sound product strategy. More importantly, our latest brainchild – Natively, allows you to convert an existing PWA into native apps for Android and iOS. 

Whether creating a PWA, native apps, or turning one into the other, Sommo is in the best position to help. Talk to our team to learn more about creating a fitting mobile app for your business. 

Roman Furman
Founder, CTO
Olha Mazuryk
Webflow developer

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