PWA vs. Native Mobile Apps: How to Know Which One is Right for You
by Lilly Thuma | Last Updated: Feb 13, 2020
How many people do you know that don’t own a smartphone? I’m willing to bet the answer is slim to none. In fact, in 2018 81 percent of Americans owned a smartphone, and if you think that number has gone down in the past two years you are crazy. With this huge wave of mobile technology it is important that brands are able to reach and interact with consumers on their mobile devices, and the best way to do this is through apps. However, the big question that still stands is, what kind of app (yes, there is more than one kind) does your business need to improve mobile engagement?
One option is a native mobile app. These are the apps that you are probably most familiar with and have had the most exposure to (aka the apps you get in the app store). You also have a Progressive Web App (PWA) which is an app that is delivered on the web, installable to the home screen, and has most of the same functionality as native mobile app minus the old school app store download. Think of a PWA as all of the benefits of the web combined with everything you love about native mobile apps with none of the drawbacks.
Both of these options sound great, so how do you decide which app is the best fit for your business? Here are some key questions that will tell you which path to follow.
What Do You Want Your App to Do?
While native mobile apps and PWAs can look similar, they have a couple different functions that will be big players in deciding which app to pursue.
Native Mobile Apps:
Push notifications. These are one way to try and increase user engagement. If a user hasn’t opened the app in awhile, the app will send a notification to their home screen prompting them to open the app. However, it’s important to note that opt-in rates for iOS push notifications are only at 43.9 percent and reaction rates are only at 4.9 percent (so not the most effective way to increase engagement).
Geofencing. This is a feature that sets up virtual boundaries that allow for the users location to trigger actions in the app.
Interaction with other apps. Native mobile apps can work with each other and call on certain actions. For example adding something to your calendar or syncing your contacts.
No app store required. You don’t have to go to an app store to access a PWA. Anywhere you can put a call-to-action with a link, QR code, text, or NFC can provide immediate access to your PWA in a matter of seconds.
Work offline (thank you service workers!). This is a huge benefit to PWAs. Service workers cache the data of the app when in use so it can be used offline or in low service areas.
Utilizes SEO. Since PWAs are hosted on the web and can be indexed by Google, they can take advantage of SEO making them super easy to find.
Instantaneous updates. With PWAs you can push out changes in real-time and have the latest version immediately available to users without any action required by the end user.
Is the Price Right?
Price is obviously a huge consideration. PWAs are considerably less expensive to build than a native mobile app. If you want to build a native mobile app that works on both iOS and Android (which you probably should), then you need two versions of the native mobile app and have to continuously update them separately. However, PWAs are built once and work across all operating systems (iOS, Android, and web) and form factors (mobile, desktop, and tablet).
Another important consideration regarding cost is who you can get to build these codes. In the Mobile Matters podcast episode with Aaron Gustafson, he mentions how it is much easier (and less expensive) to hire someone to build a PWA rather than a native mobile app precisely because of what we just talked about: native apps need to be built separately for iOS and Android while PWAs can be built once and work for both.
What’s the Timeline?
The timeline of when you want your app to be available to users is also a huge factor. PWAs take much less time to create than a native mobile app (think days or weeks vs. months). PWA development can be even faster if you’re using a no-code or low-code platform which can often cut the delivery time down to days or even hours!
What Does the Future Hold?
Before making a decision you should think about where the future of apps is heading. PWAs are becoming increasingly popular, and I do not see this trend slowing down anytime soon. Retail and travel have already been disrupted by PWAs, and food and beverage is well on its way. Staying up to date on mobile trends in different industries is another great way to make the decision between building a native mobile app or PWA.
So to review, PWAs take the cake for pricing and time, but native mobile apps are still a step ahead in some functionality. However, technology is always advancing and who knows what a PWA will be able to do in a year from now (just think how far they have come since they were introduced). A PWA may not always be the right choice for your company, but when it is you should take advantage of this new technology!