Since their advent in 2008, mobile apps have become an integral part of our lives. In 2021, we downloaded 154 billion apps, and by 2025, that number will have increased to 230 billion.
Of those apps, most of them we’ve downloaded from the Google App Store, and the overwhelming majority of them are native apps – apps created specifically to be apps and to work within the confines of a particular operating system.
However, a new type of app is on the rise, a type that can not only rival native apps but threatens to overthrow them in the long run.
We’re talking, of course, about progressive web apps. These apps are quickly becoming extremely popular due to their simpler construction, reduced dev cost, and ease of maintenance while retaining native-like capabilities and features.
Native Apps – Why Were They so Dominant?
However, before we start talking about PWAs, let’s first examine some advantages of native apps. After all, they were the absolute dominant force on the market for the longest time, which leads us to believe they’ve got something that others don’t.
UI and UX
One of the major advantages of native mobile apps is exactly that – they’re native! This means that their UI is created purposefully to fit a specific device or operating system.
On top of that, having been created specifically for mobile devices, the apps are able to use the full extent of those devices’ capabilities and squeeze the last drop of performance from them. This is why the user experience of really well-built native apps is nearly unsurpassed, lending them, and the companies that made them, a great bit of credibility.
While PWAs have offline functionality (we’ll talk about that in a bit), they’re still designed as web apps rather than full-on offline applications.
On the contrary, native mobile apps are designed primarily to operate offline, and a user can (or, at least, should be able to) use all the features of the app even if they’re not connected to the internet.
This is because native apps have all their memory stored on the device itself, whereas PWAs store cached data in the browser, which can be limiting.
Another advantage of Native Apps is that they have dedicated distribution centers. Like we said in the beginning, most apps we download come from Google App Store, and for the iOS users, from the Apple Store.
The main advantage of having a centralized distro center for apps is that all of your target audience is already here on one platform. This makes marketing substantially easier, as all your customers already know where to find you. The fact that we had downloaded 230 billion apps worldwide in 2021 is a testament to the effectiveness of the centralized system.
The Downsides of Native Apps
While the native apps are certainly high-quality products that offer excellent features, there are some glaring downsides to them.
Namely, the cost of production – native apps are very costly to produce, both in time and money, especially compared to PWAs. Because native apps usually operate with a certain operating system, in order to enable cross-platform capabilities, you’ll need to have two or more separate development teams for each platform.
On top of that, skilled app devs are harder to find and generally require higher pay than web developers, who are the primary force for developing PWAs.
Finally, there is the issue of retention. While native apps are very attention-grabbing initially, they have a very low retention rate, which, in turn, ends up hurting their longevity.
Progressive Web Apps – What Are They, and Why Are They Becoming Popular?
Let’s start first by answering what progressive web apps are?
Cross-platform out of the Box
One of the best features of PWAs and the reason they’re so popular is that they come with cross-platform capabilities out of the box. Considering the fact these apps are, as we said, websites with app functionality, they work equally well on any given platform regardless of the app’s structure.
This is because PWAs work through the browser, rather than being their own, stand-alone applications that require the user to download them to their device. However, in spite of that, progressive apps still offer the user the ability to add them to their home screen and run them by pressing the icon just as they would any normal app.
Greatly Decreased Production Cost
Due to this cross-platform functionality of progressive apps, creating one doesn’t require any kind of team that specializes in app development for a particular OS. This means that all progressive web app developers are universal, and you just need one team to do all the work.
Being websites as well as apps, PWAs also benefit greatly from all the standard SEO practices in terms of their visibility and discoverability. Due to the fact that they’re websites, Google’s web crawlers will index PWAs, and, from then on, you can rely on your SEO to boost your rankings and put you in a position where you’ve got a lot of traffic.
From then on, all you have to do is work on your lead generation and retention strategies, and you’re all set! As an example of successful PWA implementation, Twitter saw a 70% increase in tweets, while their app size was reduced by 97% because they switched from native to PWA.
PWAs are exceptionally fast. Considering most people don’t like it when web pages load slowly and will readily abandon a website if it doesn’t load in a timely fashion, the superb performance of progressive apps sports great benefits.
Because PWAs cache their data in the browser, the loading speeds of their pages are lightning quick, they can be previewed offline, as well as some of their features can still be used. On top of that, this also allows them to use push notifications, just like native apps.
Some Downsides of PWAs
With all that being said, the advantages of progressive web apps over native apps are abundantly clear. So, why haven’t PWAs already taken over and pushed native apps into obscurity?
Well, for starters, though progressive apps offer offline functionality, they’re greatly restricted by the browser in terms of cache size. Native apps have no such restrictions since they’re stored on the device.
Another advantage native apps have over PWAs is that they can make much better use of the features of the device itself. While PWAs can use some of the device’s features, like your camera or microphone, native apps go further and can make use of biometrics and other advanced features.
Finally, native apps can use geofencing. Geofencing allows the app to send notifications to the user when certain geographical boundaries are crossed or certain geolocations approached. For example, an app can inform you of discounts in a store when you get close to it or present you with a menu if you get close to a restaurant.
In the end, we shouldn’t think that PWAs are better than native apps because they offer something new. Instead, we should think along the lines of PWAs offering all the functionalities of a native app at a fraction of the cost. This is the main draw of progressive web apps and the source of their rising popularity.
On the other hand, native apps offer better offline functionalities, as well as the ability to explore more of the device’s features. This makes them invaluable and very hard to replace, no matter how good and how cheap progressive apps are.
Rick Seidl is a digital marketing specialist with a bachelor’s degree in Digital Media and Communications, based in Portland, Oregon. With a burning passion for digital marketing, social media, small business development, and establishing its presence in a digital world, he is currently quenching his thirst through writing about digital marketing and business strategies for HouseAndCourtyard.