Article Mobile App Development

PWA’s or Native Apps? Decisions, Decisions.

Categories: Mobile App Development
Posted 21 July 2020

Here at Waracle, we have been working with a range of new clients over the last three months that have asked us “Should I be building a progressive web app (PWA) or native mobile app?”. It’s cropped up so much that we thought we should write a blog about it. So here’s what we think!

For anyone joining the conversation cold, a PWA delivers a web experience that looks and feels like an app. They are available to users without installation. They are fast, reliable and load as a full screen experience just like a mobile app.

If you go to Twitter on your mobile browser, you’ll see what one looks like.

What are the benefits of a PWA?

There are numerous reasons for developing a PWA, but let’s return to the example of Twitter to see what drove their decision to build Twitter Lite.

In an article on Twitter’s blog, they listed the following reasons as justification:

  • Less expensive to run than desktop site
  • No user installation friction
  • Push notification support
  • Less storage on user devices
  • Quick load speeds in poorly connected regions
  • Reduction in user data usage

Sounds pretty compelling, huh? It is essentially an ultra-optimised mobile website, which is easy to access, can be indexed by search engines, performs optimally in-browser and can reach a wide audience. What’s not to love? Well, a few things actually… Let’s take a look at some of the PWA’s limitations.

What are the limitations of a PWA?

The limitations of a PWA are similar to the limitations of any web technology, in that it will lack the robust enterprise-level security and performance of a well-planned and implemented native application.

When comparing a native app to a PWA, we see the following points of differentiation:

  • Security – The web technologies which power PWAs, Hybrid Apps and Responsive Websites (such as CSS, HTML and Javascript) just cannot be designed to be as secure as a well-implemented native mobile application
  • Performance – Native apps are built for the operating system and device they are utilised on. Whereas PWAs won’t always be designed to legislate for every browser (or browser version) from Samsung browser to Duck duck go, v7.1 to v12.2
  • Features – PWAs cannot integrate device-specific features & functionality that native apps can. Native apps can integrate with camera, GPS, mobile payments etc. which can provide greater utility to your customers
  • Bug Management – If you have a group of developers focused on a single platform managing a native application. It becomes much easier to isolate, manage and fix bugs, which creates a better customer experience

In many cases a native application may have a better UI & UX but this is dependent on the designers and developers working to execute collaboratively, rather than being a feature of the technology specifically.

As you can see there are a range of criteria to consider when trying to choose how to invest and where to invest.

So, back to the client question…

As we said, we have been asked “Should I be building a PWA or native mobile app?” a lot recently, so what’s our answer?

‘It depends’.

If you are a high volume, multi-region organisation that wants to increase brand awareness, wants the mobile browser experience to be as good as it can be and are keen to leverage the benefits (outlined above) of PWAs for your user-base, by all means invest in a PWA.

However, if you are an enterprise-level organisation in a highly regulated industry, with concerns about security, where a data breach or sub-optimal set of customer outcomes could not only hurt your brand but see you incur heavy fines… you’ll be choosing a set of native mobile apps.

The honest answer is, the decision isn’t really an ‘either or’ decision. There are many in the industry who have been heralding the end of native applications, suggesting that PWAs are capable of replacing them, which is both premature and incorrect, but the technology will continue to develop and I am sure there will be many more new clients who want our opinion on the topic in the future.

If you need support choosing between technologies, platforms or solutions our team are waiting to hear from you. Get in touch today.