Mobile app development has been a dominant force shaping the marketing landscape for small and large businesses alike.
But apps as we’ve come to know and experience them, often referred to as native apps, are evolving thanks to the development of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs).
This shift is causing some businesses to worry that their native app is going to become obsolete. However, there is a potential new extension of the app experience-especially for those marketers who understand the importance of content.
Understanding the differences between PWAs and native apps is critical for adapting and becoming familiar with this new breed of apps and knowing what type of app your business should leverage.
If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘native apps,’ it is exchangeable with Android apps, iOS (Apple) apps and any other type of ‘mobile app.’ Any app you have downloaded onto your device is a native app.
The performance of native apps and their fast load times are unmatched. Additionally, they can access functions of the device, like Bluetooth, NFC, or even a smartphone’s flashlight. The high performance and functionality allow native apps to have more robust features and deliver a richer overall experience.
With customer experience being a significant competitive differentiator, having a feature-rich app produces a lot of value for the customer and encourages them to participate in that mobile experience. Marketers have long been using native apps to further their content strategies and take advantage of this new channel to deliver their marketing messages through.
Native apps have to be built for each platform separately to accommodate the ‘native’ programming language of that platform. Thus, you have to create an iOS code version, an Android code version and so on. Each version requires more time and resources to develop.
Connecting people to a native app is a tedious process that disenchants many potential users from undergoing the journey altogether. From accessing the app store to downloading and accepting permissions, these are all steps that someone has to commit themselves to completing to reach and use a brand’s native app. Plus, updates can often demand the user to perform an additional multi-step ordeal.
We use our mobile devices a lot and a large amount of that time is spent using apps. However, the remainder of that time is spent browsing and searching the web from the mobile device. PWAs aim to capitalize on this time by marrying the experience of an app with the immediate accessibility of visiting a website.
The advantages of PWAs mirror the disadvantages of native apps. Where traditional apps require different versions to accommodate various platforms, progressive web apps are universal, which saves development time and costs. They don’t require the hassle of requiring an app marketplace (App Store, Google Play, etc.) to access.
A user can experience the app-like experience of a PWA with just the click of a link and never need to worry about updating that experience with new versions.
The primary drawback of PWAs is their performance. Native apps can perform better and offer faster, more in-depth features because they are loaded directly into your device. In the opposing corner, PWAs have limitations on their performance.
You can’t do everything you can do in a native app in a PWA environment. They also can’t access Bluetooth and other functions of your device, as a native app can.
While connecting to the app-like experience via a simple link is convenient, especially for marketing strategies centered on making easily shareable content, it requires access to the Internet and will drain battery life quicker.
As mentioned before, some businesses that have invested into developing a native app worry about PWAs making their existing obsolete. When you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each app type against one another, you see that one’s weakness is the other’s strength. Thus, there’s a strong case to be made that progressive web apps aren’t threatening to replace native apps, but somewhat further the total app experience. PW’s are an evolution of native apps, but not their replacement.
That said, PWAs are still relatively new. Their infancy means there is a lot more to come and still left to be developed. It is not unreasonable to speculate that there could be a time when they can match the features and even performance of their native counterparts and thereby pose more of a threat to elbow native apps out of the spotlight.
The rookie status of PWAs also comes with some drawbacks, however. Not all mobile browsers even support progressive web apps yet, which means they haven’t entirely broken out of their incubation period. From a marketer’s perspective, this is a big drawback for PWAs because certain browsers won’t be able to connect to the content at all.
Ultimately, the answer to the question posed above depends significantly on each unique app and what it is being used for. Some companies have spent those resources developing a native app that is going to discover that a PWA handles all of the features and functions of their app and is more convenient for users to access. Other companies may find that a PWA won’t add anything to their existing app experience. A third group of app owners will find ways to utilize both types to deliver incredible, content-rich app experiences.
Whether your company hasn’t even created its first app or owns one but is struggling with download and conversion rates, knowing which type of app will be most beneficial for your business can be hugely impactful information as to how to navigate the differences between progressive web apps and native apps.
The first thing to consider is user behavior. Some users aren’t bothered by the hassle of downloading an app. Their day isn’t over until they’ve downloaded a new app on their device. Other people have enough apps on their phone and aren’t looking to add any more. These individuals will prefer the immediate, zero-commitment approach of PWAs.
It can be challenging to know where on the spectrum your target users are. In some cases, companies may develop both types of apps to deliver a strategy that attracts low and high effort users.
Before you begin cringing at the thought of developing another app, there’s good news. PWAs require a fraction of the budget that native apps do. You can also use an app builder to create a PWA with an app-like experience. If you wanted to supplement your native app experience with a web app, it isn’t a large investment of money. This is also great news for a small business that has been left out of the app game because of the costs. The cost of these two apps is essential to consider even if you’ve already developed a native app because of the expenses that are incurred by future updates, adding new features, and the general maintenance of the app.
Money isn’t the only resource that developing an app consumes; time is another hurdle. Depending on the depth and robustness of an app, development can take several months. Because of the broader range of possible features in native apps, it’s typical for a lot more back-and-forth between developer and company to occur, which can further slow the process down. If you want to bring an app to market quickly, this slower development time of native apps could be a detriment to your scheduling, whereas PWAs can be brought to market in a relatively short amount of time due their more straightforward offerings.
Aside from user behavior, cost, and time, the final consideration that you need to have is what your app will be used for. Performance and functionality are the most prominent differences between native and progressive web apps, with native apps being utterly unmatched for performance.
If your app plan, regarding its features and functionality, is relatively simplistic, then you can take advantage of the convenience and low costs of a PWA. A lot of branded apps focused on delivering content to users will find that PWAs are a better route because these features require little performance, but greatly enhance the content strategies of the company.
For example, a great PWA would be a restaurant that wants its app experience to house a loyalty/reward program, reservation, or food ordering feature, and a visible menu regularly updated with daily specials.
Businesses looking to offer an app with many features that demand higher performance need the faster, smoother experience that native apps offer. Native apps are also a must-have for companies that want their app to be able to leverage functions on a user’s device like Bluetooth, access to contacts or media, NFC payments, and others.
Even if these features or needs are not a part of your initial app plan, but you plan to utilize them in the future, you may still want to develop a native app to ensure that you can scale it to accommodate these added functions when the time comes.
The relationship between native apps and progressive web apps presents an interesting yin-and-yang-like duality between convenience and performance. While there are other things to consider, like cost, available platforms, development time, etc., the high performance of native apps versus the more natural user acquisition of PWAs is what sets these two apart.
As time goes on, it will be interesting to see how these two offerings are going to shape the app development world. Will businesses look to utilize both PWAs and native apps for a broader app experience or will they pick and choose one or the other?