PWA vs Native Apps: How to Choose Your Technology

PWA vs Native Apps: How to Choose Your Technology

Got confused with the choice between PWA vs native apps? You aren’t alone. On the whole, companies preferred native apps to outreach their mobile audience. However, the PWA technology keeps taking over the market of mobile engagement. 

So what technology to choose to be current with the development trends? Where should developers focus on a progressive web app or native app? Let’s clear out these things behind and outline the best cases for using either a PWA or native app.

Before challenging yourself with a question: “PWA vs native app and how to choose between them?”, let’s highlight aspects we’re going to diving in:

What Is a PWA?

Google had kicked off the PWA (aka progressive web apps) concept back in 2015. PWA focuses on making a difference and craft user experience on the mobile web. This type of apps offers an app-like experience with a whole host of web features. The modern APIs and service workers that deal with requests are at the core of PWAs. 

By the way, recently Apiko has been named as a leading PWA development company by

Let’s unpack some of the progressive web application capabilities. So these apps: 

  • have limited access to hardware 
  • store application data in the cache
  • send push notifications (only for Android users)
  • work properly with a low internet connection and offline 

Case in point: PWA has a single codebase for all platforms. This app works as a responsive website or a mobile app depending on the user’s device. It doesn’t require a download so many users have no idea that they are using a PWA.

3 core principles of programming web applications:

  1. Reliability. Despite the internet connection quality, the app works after the opening.
  2. Speed. The user experience is smooth and responsive, with no lags found.
  3. Engagement. The progressive web app feels like and performs like a native one.

How do the PWA work? The trick is in three components: 

  • Service workers are the scripts that run in the background, manage responses in the cache. They help to reduce data traffic and save information created by a user online.
  • The app shell is like a bundle of code. It represents the local resources that load the user interface of your PWA. The application shell handles the interactions and navigation of the app. Thanks to this component, the PWA works offline and loads the dynamic content that was cached by a service worker.
  • Web app manifest is a JSON file storing the information about the app. Its key purpose is to inform you how the application is displaying on the user’s screen.

Why does PWAs attract large and small businesses? The answer is a four-fold:

  • enhanced user engagement
  • secured and reliable despite the connection speed
  • lower development and maintenance expenses
  • installable but doesn’t download any software on the user’s device

pwa vs native apps


What Is a Native App?

The native apps are known for rich functionality developed for a specific platform. The current leaders are well-known - that are Android and iOS. Unlike the PWAs, the Android and iOS apps use all the possibilities of device-specific hardware and software. That ensures better user experience and overall app performance.

On the tech side, developers employ preliminary programming languages and frameworks for the native apps. The mix of Java and Kotlin helps to create Android apps, while Android and iOS apps used to build iOS applications.

Business owners and developers are coming up with the PWA vs native apps dilemma. As the statistics show - mobile apps keep on growing their popularity. It all boils down to look closely at the strong and weak sides of these applications before making any conclusions.

progressive web app vs native app


PWA Strong and Weak Sides

It’s impossible to put forth a defined list of progressive web application features. Let’s highlight the key strength aspects:

  • Adaptive. The apps are cross-platform and offer the same UI/UX for all devices and screen sizes.
  • Optimized performance. The app works fast on any device and internet connection.
  • Optional installation. The user can use the PWA without installation. So many users may even don’t know that they are using an app.
  • No obligatory updates. The user always engages with the latest version.
  • Linkable. The user can share the app via URL only.
  • Secure. As HTTPS protocol is obligatory, the app prevents information revealing or altering.

On the flip side, there are few weak spots:

  • iOS limited functionality. iOS set off the PWA support in 2018 so many features are still locked. If your app looks for re-engagement with Apple users, you should turn to native app development.
  • Fast battery drain. The PWA requires more CPU and if the app is built of frameworks - it exhausts the battery faster.
  • Limited access to hardware components and data 

Pros and Cons of the Native Apps

Android and iOS applications vary in advantages and disadvantages. To illustrate this point, let enumerate the shared issues for both platforms.

The pros of native apps over PWAs:

  • Polished performance and UI. The native app integrates seamlessly with the OS. Developers follow the preliminary guidelines for Android and iOS.
  • Full access to device and hardware capabilities. Native apps got access to all APIs and user’s data. Another plus is their compatibility with other products offered by Google or Apple.
  • Suitable for complex applications.
  • Virtual store support. The presence adds to the native application visibility. Besides, the user ratings prove the solution quality. Overall, it serves as an additional traffic source.

Thus, on the other side of the fence, native apps have a couple of drawbacks:

  • Expensive development. The need to build two versions of the native app.
  • Constant updates and maintenance. The app build requires managing on two different platforms. Plus, the feature update and support become problematic.
  • Sluggish development process. The native app code can’t run on different platforms.
  • Longer launch. Native apps should be approved by Google Play or App Store which may take some time.

6 Things to Compare in Progressive Web Apps and Native Apps

Let’s face it: the exhaustive list of PWA vs native apps features and functions can be quite long. So the mission is clear: cover the major aspects to ensure you have enough information to make up your mind about PWA or native app.

  1. Tech Stack

The native apps technologies are quite traditional. For example, Android apps are usually built with Java or Kotlin. The stack includes such toolkits as Android Studio and Android Developer Tools. The iOS app is built on Swift and Objective C including Xcode and AppCode toolkits.

Progressive web apps need only one version that will work properly on all browsers. The stack used here can be a mix of HTML5, CSS, React Native, AMP, Angular.

It’s worth mentioning the popularity of these programming, scripting and markup languages, frameworks. To prove it here is statistical information from Stack Overflow’s Developer Annual Survey 2019 where 90K of developers participated.

a) Programming, scripting and markup languages

    • JavaScript 69.7%
    • HTML/CSS 63.1%
    • Java 39.2%
    • Swift 6.8%
    • Kotlin 6.6%
    • Objective-C 5.2%

b) Web Frameworks

    • Angular/Angular.js 32.4%

c) Frameworks

    • React Native 10.8%

2. App Performance

Both PWAs and native apps have a high speed of performance. There are only two points where native apps take over progressive web applications: 

    1. game apps
    2. applications that employ devise hardware for the interaction

3. Push Notification

The native apps have this function available regardless of the platform or device model. Only users can disable receiving push notifications from your app. As for the PWA, service workers can send notifications to a user when the app is offline. Yet only Android users can get push notifications.

4. Working Offline

In general, progressive web applications and native apps work during poor or lack of internet connection. In PWA, service workers save the webpage data during the running time. Once the user opens the app offline, it performs as usual with the cached data. 

The native apps got various implementations for information caching. Some apps can work without an internet connection, while others can’t. The apps display content collected during the internet connection of the device. However, there are native apps out there with limited offline functionality.

5. Updates and Support

Don’t consider the app updates and maintenance as secondary or tertiary problems. The bug-free and updated solution is more attractive to users. Here is where PWA vs native apps differ greatly. A progressive web application is nearly always loaded from the server so it requires updates only on the business side.

Speaking of the native apps, the updates should be done business and user sides. What’s more, updating and maintaining come with additional costs. More than often, users don’t update your app together. That requires the support of different app versions at the same time.

6. Availability of Device Features

The native apps have full access to the device feature sets as they are built to run as a part of platform software. No wonder they got easy access to the device hardware, GPS, NFC, accelerometer, user’s data, and so on. The native apps can also customize the device settings.

In their turn, PWAs have rather limited access to devise hardware and functions. Unlike iOS devices, Android-based devices support more options for progressive web apps. Besides, Apple limits the access to Face ID, Touch ID, Siri, ARKit, and others.

Every feature depends on the APIs supported in HTML5. Here are enlisted the features of  these browsers available for your future PWAs:


PWA vs Native Apps: Which One to Choose?

Contrary to popular belief, the PWA won't replace the native app. But it will strengthen the Android and iOS apps in the audience reach. Progressive web apps are expected to become an important link in the customer journey. That will help companies to achieve a delicate balance between what’s fresh and what’s effective.

Being a developer, you are quite curious about where to place your focus and what stack to choose. This won’t work without some clever planning. There are just too many combinations of technologies to juggle. Be ready to spend some time refining the business idea, requirements, and functionalities of the future app before defining the technology stack.

So here are business cases when choosing a progressive app.

    • the business looks for a cross-platform app to reach a large audience
    • the limited budget and terms for the app development and updates
    • expected app functionality or content don’t follow the application store policies
    • there is no need for close integration with the device hardware
    • the push notification for iOS users isn’t an integral part of the business 

And the list of cases where the native apps work best for:

    • businesses that consider the store presence a must
    • the app requires tight integration with the device's hardware
    • the apps with a subscription model or those with in-app purchases
    • AR rendering solutions and games
    • the apps using biometric authentication

The bottom line: once you define the best platform for building an application, the choice of the development approach becomes obvious too. You never know what might grow out of a wild idea. If you have one that deals with PWA or native apps, get in touch with Apiko. We are current with technological trends and experienced in building both types of apps.

Frequently Asked Questions


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


The hybrid app combines elements of web and native apps. Developers build these apps using web technologies and “wrap” them into a native app shell with React Native. The hybrid app can be downloaded from the store on any platform. Unlike PWA, these apps should be updated on both sides by business and by the user. The UI is convenient like in a native app, while the performance is smooth and the app works offline like a progressive web app. The stack of hybrid apps includes HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, then the app is packaged and exported to run cross-platform.


Is Kotlin better than Java?


Kotlin is fully OOP (aka object-oriented programming) and more advanced than Java. Using this programming language, the developer writes less code and releases a built faster. Unlike Java, Kotlin has such features as functional reactive programming (aka dataflow programming), lambda expression, NULL safety, invariant array, and smart casts. Besides, Kotlin is simultaneously operated with Java.


Who is using PWAs?


The world-known companies provide PWAs: Facebook Lite, Twitter Lite, Aliexpress, Forbes, Pinterest, Uber, Tinder, Flipboard, Starbucks, Alibaba, Lancome.