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PWA vs Native Apps: What is The Difference and Which One Should You Choose?

Thierry Maout • Jul 7, 2022 • 7 min read

When building a web application, a wide array of choices are quickly required of us: Should you pay for a professional development agency? Should you build it yourself? What is an MVP? 


This can quickly feel overwhelming and discouraging.


One of the most important things you need to figure out (once you understand what a web application is), is whether to create a native app or a progressive web app (PWA). This distinction will be key in how you should approach your web app development, how much it’ll cost, and in how you should develop your business case.


In this article, we will cover what native apps and progressive web apps are, the differences between the two, their respective pros and cons, and which type of app is the best fit for which type of project. 


Keep on reading to learn more!



Table of Contents



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What is a Native App? Pros and Cons


A native app is a software application that has been designed for use on a specific platform or device. The best and most common examples are apps you can download from the Apple Store or Google’s Play Store.


Because of their very nature, they are able to leverage device-specific software and hardware capabilities, such as the phone’s camera or geolocalization for example. Native apps became especially popular around the time the iPhone came out, with a world of possibilities for both the users and app developers.


Some of us still might remember the iconic iPhone 3 “There’s an App For That” 2009 commercial.

iPhone 3 “There’s an App For That” 2009 commercial

Image Source: Cult of Mac



However, the golden age of native apps now seems to be behind us, with an end of apps that has been predicted for years, due to consumers’ habits, market saturation, and new technologies such as progressive web apps. 


But more on that later, for now, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of native apps:



Pros of native apps:

  • Great user experience (UX) and immersive user interface (UI)
  • Better performance than the alternatives
  • A dedicated native app “looks” professional 
  • Provides access to certain device feature



Cons of native apps:

  • Expensive to build 
  • Take time and energy to launch
  • Rely on dedicated app environment 
  • Bad installation experience
  • Difficult to stand out in a saturated marketplace


Overall, native apps provide a great experience for the user, and have a definite allure to them for businesses wanting to appear professional.


However, they are difficult to build and require editors to rely on an app environment that they have no control over. What if Apple decides to ban your app from the App Store?

What is a PWA? Pros and cons 


On the other hand, PWAs (Progressive Web Apps) have gained steam in recent years, with major websites such as Twitter switching to a PWA model. A PWA is a type of application that only requires minimal installation and can be delivered through the web using technologies like HTML, CSS, or JavaScript. 


The idea is that PWAs can work on any platform with a browser, both on desktop and mobile. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons.



Pros of PWAs

  • Very straightforward installation process 
  • Cheaper to develop and maintain
  • SEO-friendly (it’s essentially a website)
  • Can do most of what a native app can do



Cons of PWAs

  • Limited functionalities on some mobile operating systems
  • Slower performance than a native app


In essence, progressive web apps have been an answer to the decline of native apps, whose download and retention rates have been steadily decreasing over time. PWAs seem to provide an easier, more accessible alternative for users and developers alike. 


But let’s take a closer look at their differences, and which one would be a great fit for your specific needs.

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Differences between PWAs vs native apps: Which should you pick?


First off, let’s take a look at the key differences between progressive web apps and native apps:


  • Cost: Native apps are notoriously expensive and difficult to ship. The fact that you’re relying on a third party (the app marketplace of your choice) means that not only do you depend on it to run your business but that you owe them a percentage as well.
  • Features and technical limitations: Because native apps are intrinsically tied to the device and the environment they exist in, they offer more advanced technical opportunities and features than PWAs.
  • SEO and general searchability: Because PWAs are web pages, they can be indexed by search engines, contrary to native apps which live within an ecosystem. As a result, they can benefit from the power of SEO for acquisition.
  • Notifications: Progressive web apps and native apps handle notifications in different ways. While native apps allow for granular control, PWAs depend on web notifications. This can prove to be challenging: if your users have disabled browser notifications, they won’t receive any from your PWA.


There are a lot of differences between the two, which can make it difficult to decide which type of approach to pick. We broke it down for you.



Pick a Native App if you:

  • Have a complex product that needs to leverage your user's device features extensively 
  • Need a dedicated native app for business reasons (“looking professional”)
  • Your app requires complex integrations with others and/or needs to be built on complex security algorithms



Pick a PWA if you:

  • Are building an MVP and need to iterate on feedback quickly 
  • Don’t want to spend too much time and money to get your app live and running
  • Are looking to address users across all devices and systems
  • Want to benefit from organic search and SEO


In short, PWAs are a great opportunity for teams and companies to build and develop apps without relying on gated marketplaces like the App Store or the Google Play Store. For users, they are also convenient as they don’t require any download.  


We’ve established that building a native app is a lengthy and costly process, but how can you build a progressive web app? Let’s find out.

How to build your own PWA with Softr


Using Softr’s intuitive WYSIWYG editor, users are able to build an app like they would a lego construction, using blocks and connectors.

softr features

Softr users are able to build a PWA and then configure its name, logo, and color as it will be displayed on the users' side. They will be able to "install" the app on their desktop and open it through their browser.


The entire process only takes a few steps in Softr:


  1. Enable the PWA option
  2. Give your PWA a name 
  3. Upload an icon for the app
  4. Set up a background color
  5. Decide on the floating button position


And that’s pretty much it! See below an example of a PWA configuration in Softr.

softr pwa feature

Once you’ve set up your PWA, users will be able to install the app on their device, with all the parameters you’ve previously set.

Learn more on our support page about building a Progressive Web App (PWA) with Softr.

Conclusion


Figuring out whether a native app or a progressive web app is the best fit for you comes down to your business model and needs. While native apps were the norm ten years ago, PWAs offer many benefits.


If you’re on the fence about spending time and money on building a native app, why not start with a PWA and go from there? Take a look at some of these web app ideas for some inspiration, and join our Slack community to discuss!

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