The digital revolution aided by the proliferation of smartphones (560.01 million internet users) and data affordability has pushed brands towards either mobile optimization of websites, or the design of native apps to engage target audiences.

While native apps provide a superior experience, brands outside the top 20 of their category in the app store question spending the required amount of money and time to build, manage, and sustain them. Let us understand the merits and demerits of both native apps and the emerging progressive web apps to conclude which of the two fares better.

Native apps have been the go-to format since the last decade. Given that they are developed for both iOS as well as Android, they work optimally for all kinds of devices. The advantages of native apps begin with the fact that their load times are unmatched. In addition, they can access mobile functions like Bluetooth, camera, calendar, GPS, contact list, microphone, flashlight etc. Their high performance and functionality essentially allow them to include robust features while delivering a richer consumer experience. In addition, native apps are clear leaders in terms of providing push notifications on both iOS and Android to leverage user engagement.

The drawbacks of native apps, on the other hand, begin with the fact that it requires accommodating ‘native’ programming language for both iOS and Android. Hence, designers must create a coded version for each platform, which requires the investment of more time and money to develop. Hence, some brands only have the resources to design a native app for either Android or iOS platforms. In addition, updating native apps is a more laborious task. Native apps are also known to drain the battery and storage of mobile devices, but this can be curbed by efficient coding.

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are the midway between mobile websites and native apps, which is accessed from a web browser such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari among others rather than app stores. Their content can be further downloaded and pinned to a mobile’s home screen while browsing. PWAs are a cost-effective approach since they are developed only once for both android as well as iOS. Considering they are accessed via browsers, companies are not required to submit them on app stores. This creates several other advantages as content is accessed faster (directly via URL); it uses only a small portion of phone storage and battery; and offers easy sharing via URL. In addition, since PWAs are essentially websites, they can be optimized for search engines as the latest Google algorithm particularly values PWAs. As a result, they are likelier to rank among the first search results and gain recognition. Furthermore, they do not require any updates unlike native apps, wherein users merely have to click the link to PWAs.

However, the drawbacks of PWAs are that they do not offer the high quality of interface and user experience (UX/UI Design) that native apps provide. PWAs are not only limited in this respect, but also require an active internet connection always to deliver content. In addition, they fail to access several mobile features. While push notifications are supported on Android, they are limited to browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari, and completely unavailable for iOS devices.   

A case can therefore be made for each of the two, as the advantages of one mirrors the disadvantage of the other. Companies must therefore weigh the above factors and arrive at a conclusion by keeping user behavior in mind. Furthermore, the cost of investment becomes another major consideration while time becomes the next hurdle. Development can take several months depending on the depth and robust features of app. The design of native apps can cause a lot of back and forth, and delay the launch, while PWAs can be brought to the market in a shorter period of time.

With user behavior, cost, and time, the final consideration comes in the form of app use. For instance, if the app plan is simple and straightforward, then PWAs are the way ahead. On the other hand, businesses wishing to offer many features require native apps for faster and smoother functioning.

Having said that, these choices may change as time passes considering PWAs are still in their nascent stage. As of now, companies will have to first establish their user behavior, budget, deadlines, and app objectives and thereby decide whether native apps or PWAs match these considerations. They may also opt for both, depending on the same. A dilemma won’t arise if companies have clarity on their objectives, and hence both native and progressive website apps have the power to leverage their brand recognition.