PWA vs Hybrid vs Native vs Responsive Web Comparison

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What would be your next step after making a decision to develop a mobile app for your business? 

Most probably, you clearly realize how sustainable the growth of mobile development is. According to stats, the overall capitalization of the global mobile app market will reach $935 billion by 2023. Keeping this huge figure in mind, you would face a dilemma of what type of mobile app is worth your time and effort most. 

Options are available: PWA, native apps, hybrid ones, and responsive web design. How to approach the right decision? First of all, you should determine the end goal of your future application. After that, you should compare the properties of different app types to figure out which one would fit your business goals best.

This is exactly what we are going to help you with. Find a brief but sufficient comparison of different app types in the present post to make no mistake. 

Table of contents

Introductory factors for the app type selection

What is PWA?

What is Native app?

What is Hybrid app?

What is Responsive design?

Main options for comparison

FAQ

Summary

The choice of the app type begins with a clear understanding of the business goals the app helps achieve. The goals go hand in hand with the intended user audience of the app. It is necessary to assume how long your audience will be hanging out with your app as well as how many times a month your users will refer to the app.

At the other extreme, business-oriented functionalities of your app are accompanied by possible variants of UI/UX design, the ways of distribution to the market, and post-release support and maintenance.

Some may wonder why it is crucial to select a particular app type when the mobile app industry as a whole is developing at a very rapid rate. Can the examination of advantages of PWA over native apps, for instance, result in tangible financial outcomes? The following arguments can help realize why the “PWA vs hybrid vs native” comparison is never time wasted.

  • The correctly selected type of your app can reflect not only the business logic and target audience. It can determine the developers you should find for your project. Developers differ, and the technologies they use along with the expected development period have a significant impact on the success of your project;
  • When it comes to the cost of app development, every particular type of app has an intrinsically determined scope of the cost-related factors worth knowing from the very beginning. You should correlate your project budget with the objective cost of development;
  • It is always worth understanding what the post-release maintenance and technical support of your app would require from you in the future.

Hence, the right choice of your app type is crucial for the sustainable success of your business. Having a clear idea of the difference between PWA and hybrid apps as well as understanding progressive web app advantages versus native apps can come from exploring the specificity of each type. 

Progressive web apps at their essence are websites that utilize special APIs to access certain functions of mobile devices. The API allows getting access to the device memory as well as integrating with push notifications (for Android). PWA runs in a separate tab of the browser. Users can launch PWA with a corresponding home-screen icon as it happens with the other mobile apps.

The very idea of combining web apps with native apps belonged to Google that represented PWA in 2015. 

The most striking feature of PWA is using web browsers to run. Browsers launch PWA in their environments while acting as virtual machines for this type of application. Native apps, in contrast, require operating systems to run (Android, iOS). The majority of browsers support PWA nowadays. However, some of them are still working over the integration of the technology (Internet Explorer, Safari) while others have already implemented PWA completely (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Edge, Brave).

Very briefly, the pros and cons of PWA might look like the following:

Pros

  • A single team of developers can create PWA from A to Z;
  • Web development skills are enough to create PWA;
  • PWA is very easy to maintain;
  • PWA starts working instantly out-of-the-box.

Cons

  • Push notifications do not work in iOS;
  • UX is inferior to the native apps’ one;
  • Technical support for PWA is still limited;
  • Distribution channels of PWA are not so straightforward as for native apps.

It might seem that PWA is the same as a responsive web app. But it isn’t so. There are some critical differences between progressive web apps and responsive web apps. 

Home screen icons allow PWA to feel and look like native apps while responsive web apps have no such an option. Push notifications are realized through different mechanisms in PWA and responsive apps. The adoptive design of PWA does not require separately created code for different platforms as it happens with responsive apps. PWA has a higher loading speed due to the cached code which, by the way, allows using the app even offline.

The differences between PWA and native apps/hybrid apps are even more significant. They would become clear after considering those app types’ properties.

Native apps are created for each particular mobile platform. Taking into account the existing state of affairs in the contemporary mobile market, we can legitimately indicate the two clear platform leaders: Android and iOS. If a native app is built for Android, it can not run on iOS.

In terms of hardware interaction, native apps appear a champion in the “PWA vs native app vs hybrid app” competition. Native apps have access to the entire hardware functionality of gadgets: GPS, camera, Bluetooth, microphone, fingerprint scanner, etc. Numerous opportunities are opened before native apps due to such functionality: 2F authentication, NFC payments, interfacing with other applications such as calendar, calls, etc.

Developers use different technologies to create native apps for different platforms (Swift for Android, for instance). Besides, native apps are always heavier than web apps and their launching time is correspondingly longer. 

The technologies used for creating hybrid apps allow compiling code to be executed on both Android and iOS. Different techs can be used for such a purpose (C#, JavaScript+HTML5, etc). It means that hybrid apps occupy a mid-position with regard to the speed of development in the comparison progressive web app vs native vs hybrid. 

Utilizing a unified code standard for multiple mobile platforms hybrid apps look and behave like native apps (if being developed properly, of course). In general, users hardly care about the type of app if it provides the functionality they expect. They can recognize a hybrid app when using both mobile platforms for the same application, that is not a frequent situation, however.

The main advantage of hybrid apps against native apps is in the project budget: since one hybrid app can substitute for two native apps, the development cost ought to appear lower. 

Responsive web apps are similar to PWA in terms of the very concept: a website that acts like a native mobile app. The “responsive” definition in such a context means that those websites are adaptive to various screens. Similar to PWA, responsive web apps are created with the “mobile-first” principle in mind. This is about the mobile responsive design when designers focus on how an app may look at mobile gadgets (mostly smartphones) first of all. Adding elements for larger desktop screens goes afterward.

Responsive web design benefits are similar to those of PWA: an app appears cheaper than both native apps and hybrid ones with a shorter time-to-market. Besides, typical web development expertise is enough to create a responsive web application. 

The main difference between progressive web apps and responsive ones is in the constant connectivity compulsory for any website to run. While PWA can work offline (to some extent and temporarily), progressive web apps require both appropriate bandwidth and constant connectivity for any UX scenario.

There are many parameters with which different app types can be compared. The following ones seem to be sufficient for making a decision about the app type that fits your project best.

Multi-platform availability

This is what has nothing to do with native apps: they are developed separately for each particular platform. Hybrid apps, in contrast, can be considered platform-agnostic. The same relates to both PWA and responsive web apps that require browsers to run, not operating systems. This is the very essence of the difference between progressive web apps and hybrid apps as well as between responsive web apps and native ones.

Push notifications

Both native apps and hybrid ones deal with push notifications successfully: they both interact with operating systems and, therefore, the hardware functionality of smartphones is at their disposal. The issue is not so straightforward when it comes to both PWA and responsive web apps. Web apps have to ask users to subscribe for push notifications: each notification appears unique for every user when the subscription ID is available. 

PWA, in contrast to responsive web apps, can support push notifications even when an app does not run: the so-called “service worker” receives notifications from the app server and pushes them to users. Of course, the engaged browser should support push APIs for such a purpose.

push notifications

Distribution

The app stores of both Android and iOS are the only marketplace where both native apps and hybrid ones can be found by users. This is a great advantage (the vast majority of users are looking for apps in the app stores) and a disadvantage at the same time: you can hardly find native apps and hybrid apps somewhere beyond app stores.

Responsive web apps can be downloaded with a direct link: they do not need (and cannot, to be honest) to reside in app stores to be found. PWA, in contrast to all the other types, takes the best from both worlds: they can be downloaded from a website via a direct link as well as feeling good in mobile app stores (Google Play market especially). This is one of the main benefits of progressive web apps vs responsive web apps vs hybrid apps vs native ones.

Development speed/cost

PWA and responsive web apps seem to appear faster and cheaper than both native apps and hybrid ones due to a couple of reasons: a) web apps run in the cross-platform paradigm since browsers, not operating systems, are used; b) web development techs are simpler in many aspects than the ones used for platform-dependent solutions. Besides, the community of web developers provides a wider availability of specs regardless of any desired location. The longest and most expensive variant, therefore, is native apps requiring separate apps for different platforms.

Functionality

This is one of the most equivocal issues in the PWA vs native app vs hybrid app vs responsive web comparison. On the one hand, native apps seem to be clear leaders since the entire hardware functionality of mobile devices is at their disposal. On the other hand, the business goals of the majority of commercial projects can be achieved via the other app types with relative ease. The available PWA use cases (Lift, AliExpress, OLX, Twitter, etc) prove this clearly. The only domain where native apps seem to dominate regarding functionality is mobile gaming.  

Security

The subject is more multifaceted than it may seem. The app vulnerabilities that may threaten users with possible hacking are not the only aspect to be considered. Updates and rules compliance are also critical for app security. PWA and responsive web apps do not bother users with updates in contrast to both native and hybrid apps. Web apps are available beyond app stores with their strict (and, in many cases, barely explainable) rules. PWA uses HTML that is actively supported by Google in terms of cybersecurity while developers of native/hybrid apps oftentimes overlook many vulnerabilities making their apps less secure.

Performance

Both native and hybrid apps require to be fully downloaded on devices. Besides, they appear to be larger in size than web apps. The latter reside on web servers being downloaded on devices just partially. This has a positive effect on the performance of PWA and responsive web apps. In addition, the contemporary 4G/5G mobile networks provide a high-speed exchange of data between web servers and mobile browsers that makes web apps’ functioning smooth. Hence, there is no significant difference between progressive/responsive web apps and native/hybrid apps in terms of performance.

What approaches are less costly and more time-efficient?

Native apps require the longest development period if compared with the other app types. The main reason for it is that native apps have to be developed separately for each mobile platform. The cost of development of native apps is the highest, respectively. Due to a unified codebase, hybrid apps are to be developed faster and appear cheaper than native apps, therefore. But the fastest development belongs to web apps (PWA and responsive ones are almost equal in this regard). They appear to be the cheapest also due to the web techs (JavaScript, CSS, HTML) that are widely known among developers.

Will progressive web apps replace native apps?

Both the promotional efforts of Google and the wide adoption of PWA by business leaders (Starbucks, Twitter, Aliexpress, etc.) give reasons to think so. Besides, the fastest development along with the lowest cost makes PWA very attractive for both small/middle-sized projects and large ones. At the same time, some technical constraints such as a poorer interaction with the hardware functionality of devices (fingerprint scanners, Bluetooth, etc.) make native/hybrid apps still irreplaceable in some UX scenarios such as mobile gaming. 

Can PWA replace hybrid apps?

PWA can potentially replace hybrid apps in many commercial domains where a deep integration with the hardware functions of devices is not too critical. Numerous PWA use cases that have achieved worldwide success hint at a distinct possibility to become the number-one popular app type for PWA. However, this is not about hybrid apps leaving the stage completely, this is about a stronger financial rationale the PWA development seems to have against the other app types.

Are progressive web apps better than responsive websites?

Some certain properties make PWA more preferable than responsive websites in terms of user experience. Push notifications, home-screen icons, availability in app stores, and better adaptability to screen sizes make PWA a decent substitute for native/hybrid apps in the eyes of mobile users. Even though responsive websites will keep occupying a certain niche in the mobile market, PWA seems to outperform responsive websites by many parameters.

Should I build a PWA?

A lot depends on the business model of your project. If it does not imply a heavy mobile game, PWA is the app type that can meet all your expectations. A variety of UX scenarios beginning from world-scale social media (Twitter) and up to large e-commerce marketplaces (Aliexpress) is in the scope of PWA. The shortest development period (and the lowest cost respectively) in comparison with other app types allows PWA to deliver the strongest financial rationale to almost any sort of mobile project.

Despite particular pros and cons inherent in each type of mobile application, the present PWA vs native app vs hybrid app vs responsive website comparison reveals numerous objective factors that encourage selecting progressive web applications as the most universal mobile solution for today.

PWA is equal to native apps in terms of performance and security. Responsive websites are inferior to PWA regarding push notifications, app store distribution, and screen size adaptivity. Such characteristics as multi-platform availability and development speed/cost make PWA more attractive than hybrid apps. Hence, beyond some special UX scenarios such as mobile gaming, PWA appears to be the future of mobile development.

Contact us today if PWA seems to correspond to what your project implies. Additional arguments in favor of PWA along with a personal approach are guaranteed.

 

PWANovember 29, 2021
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