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The debate on PWA vs native apps pros and cons is heating up. With big players like Starbucks, AliExpress, Uber, and Twitter jumping on board the PWA train, it seems like the future is clear. But hold on, why are other major players like Amazon not following suit? Is it worth abandoning the tried-and-tested native app in favor of the shiny new PWA?

We know it’s a tough call, so our team of experts has got you covered. We’ve compared the two powerhouses from both a business and user perspective to help you make a well-informed choice. 

Native app vs PWA: all-round comparison from a business perspective

Time, cost, and security are probably the first things that come to your mind as a business owner when thinking about developing any software. Indeed, speaking of native apps vs PWA, they are crucial, yet not the only factors to consider.

1. Development cost 

Since their inception in 2015, progressive web apps have been a hot take, with many debating the merits of this alternative to traditional mobile solutions. In essence, PWA is a website that offers user experience and visual aesthetic similar to that of a native mobile app, all while costing significantly less. This is achieved by using a single codebase and building a one-stop solution that performs equally across all platforms and devices. For those who already have a web application, migrating it to a progressive one seems like a viable option that can further reduce development costs. 

Native apps are developed specifically for an operating system on which they will run. If you plan to create an application for two OS – Android and iOSdouble the development cost. You’ll require a team with expertise in main programming languages – Swift and Objective-C for iOS and Java and Kotlin for Android.

However, if your idea revolves around using Bluetooth connection, location tracking, camera features, etc., mobile development becomes the only option. It doesn’t mean though, that you’ll have to bid a farewell to a fortune. Cross-platform development empowers you to use best-of-the-breed frameworks (Flutter, React Native, Node.js, etc.) and craft native app-like look and feel solutions both for iOS and Android without breaking a bank. 

Check out a robust healthcare platform we’ve created for both Android and iOS using React Native to save the project’s budget

If you want to reduce the development cost for both PWA and a native app, look into hiring a remote development team in a more cost-effective and talent-rich location, such as Poland. 

2. Maintenance 

PWAs mean working with one codebase that suits multiple platforms. This alone makes maintaining a progressive web application more manageable and affordable. In our experience, support for PWA requires around 10% of its development cost. 

Native apps: In addition to the impact on the project’s cost, separate codebases lead to higher maintenance costs for your app. Statistics show you’ll need 15–20% of the development expenses to maintain your native mobile application. 

Another nuance of maintenance, which often slips the mind in the beginning, is the fact that any changes made to a native application have to be submitted for a review in app marketplaces. Meanwhile, with a PWA, you completely control the delivery of updates and do not need to wait for third-party approvals, making the whole process more efficient and streamlined.

— Eduard Belianinik, Head of Mobile Development, *instinctools

There is one more thing to keep in mind at the start, which applies to both PWAs and native apps. The application code should initially be clear and readable to make updates easier for developers. Maintaining the code written with multiple workarounds to cover the functionality you need will be tricky. Consider this when choosing a technical partner for application development. 

3. Security 

PWAs run under HTTPS protocols that entail browser-to-server encryption. In addition, you can implement JSON Web Tokens (JWT) for authenticating users, Content Security Policy (CSP) to prevent cross-site scripting attacks and malicious code injection, etc. 

As a result, progressive web apps can be as secure or vulnerable as any website is. 

PWAs rely on server-side security measures, leaving no room for local storage. As for native apps, they become an integral part of the operating system, unlocking the ability to securely store data within the app. 

— Eduard Belianinik, Head of Mobile Development, *instinctools

All native apps published in the official store must pass the verification of the App Store or Play Market. Only solutions with five-star security are allowed to be published. 

One of the basic ways to ensure a proper security level for your application is leveraging Multi-Factor Authentication. Besides this feature, you can incorporate such native-app-specific options as Face ID and Touch ID.

If you want to put a premium on security, you can also build additional features into your mobile app:

  • certificate pinning to prevent man-in-the-middle (MITM) type of security attacks;
  • VPN or SSL tunnel to transfer sensitive information and protect it from data theft;
  • runtime application self-protection (RASP) to monitor all the incoming requests and intercept attackers, etc. 

The boon of a native app is that all these features can be built-in. For example, VPN cannot be integrated directly within a PWA, but in the case of native app development, it can be embedded in the application itself. In fact, we did just that in one of our projects so that the traffic would not be intercepted. 

— Eduard Belianinik, Head of Mobile Development, *instinctools

Therefore, if you are going to build a healthcare or banking solution that constantly has to handle sensitive user data, with a native app you can implement as many advanced security control features as you want to hone the safety of the solution.

Any way you slice it, when it comes to security, PWAs fall behind native apps

But it’s worth remembering that the actual level of application security also depends on the experience and skills of the team responsible for it. Data breaches and vulnerabilities can occur because of human error within the development team. Therefore, battle-proven experts are the bedrock of your solution’s security.

4. Discoverability 

Native app vs PWA

Unfortunately, building a great product is not enough, and you should take care to adequately promote your solution to users. Both PWA and native apps provide you with options to do so.

PWAs are essentially websites that can be easily found through search engines. This means that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) becomes a crucial component in ensuring that your PWA reaches its target audience. It may seem like another point of progressive web apps vs native applications comparison, where PWAs win thanks to Google’s mobile-first indexing approach, which implies ranking the websites with dedicated mobile versions higher.

Take the example of BMW, an automotive industry giant, that wanted to improve its website while staying customer-centric. By implementing a PWA, they saw a whopping 49% increase in site visits generated by SEO. On top of that, the PWA loaded 3–4 times faster than the old website, leading to a remarkable 50% increase in the number of mobile users. 

However, it’s not all that simple with SEO for PWAs. AI-powered Bing, another search engine that is gaining momentum, doesn’t follow a mobile-first approach. Moreover, for the app to rank high on any search engine, you have to constantly work on optimizing your content, come up with thoughtful meta tags based on keyword research, write original expertise-backed articles with captivating headlines, and ensure your web content is genuinely valuable to its readers. 

In the case of native apps, you should pay attention to ASO (App Store Optimization) to increase the number of people who can find your application. Just as with PWA, where you have to mind SEO and follow its best practices, you’ll face similar challenges with ASO. It includes putting your app in the correct category, providing quality and relevant screenshots of your app, writing a catchy title, investigating keywords to provide a results-oriented meta description, etc. These efforts should pay off with a higher rank among other similar applications. 

Still, it’s easier to beat the competition with other native apps than to win the race among web applications. Here’s why. Two solutions with identical names cannot exist in an app store. If a user is looking for your app, they will find exactly that one. Search engines operate differently and imply more hangups. For instance, even if users seek out your web application, there will be the lion’s share of pages not related to your app in search results. Moreover, your rivals can set up paid ads under your solution’s name to occupy the first pages and, thus, make looking for your web app a painstaking experience for customers. 

5. Time to market 

PWAs adapt seamlessly to any platform, significantly reducing development time and effort – no more grappling with the technical nitty-gritty of multiple operating systems and their respective app stores. As a result, you can release your PWA in a timeframe that has never been possible for a native application

When the pandemic struck and lockdowns became the norm, our team was approached by a US mental health startup that wanted to develop a mobile-friendly solution to connect people with psychological support via text chat. We’ve suggested betting on PWA to craft the application as soon as possible. Our team managed to roll out the progressive web app in just one month, an unimaginable feat if speaking about developing a native mobile app for each platform separately. 

The fact that the native app should be developed for different operating systems delays the app’s time to market. Add to this the need to wait for approvals from the App Store and Play Store before putting your solution on display. Therefore, be prepared that it will take more than a few months from the start of the development to the point when users can download your app.

Want to join the ranks of companies with successful front-and-center solutions?

Progressive web apps vs native apps: the user’s standpoint

When choosing how to implement your idea, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the final decision should rest with those, who will ultimately be interacting with the app – end users. Therefore, you need to consider what level of customer experience they may expect from your app when evaluating PWA vs native pros and cons. This refers to the ease of the app installation, updates convenience, functionality, performance, personalization level, required space, and battery consumption.

1. Installation approach 

PWA doesn’t require any downloading and installing. Users need two clicks to bookmark it and add it to their home screen for direct access. Therefore, PWA can boost users’ engagement without the hassle of downloads and installations

Enhancing readers’ engagement is one of the top-of-mind goals for media, such as Forbes. Thanks to introducing PWA, they experienced a 100% increase in engagement rates and raised readership by 12%. 

Native apps need to be installed from official app stores. If you want to build an app that people will turn to frequently, such as social media or a parking app, then a native application is likely your best bet. But, let’s say you’re creating an app for something that people don’t use every day, like insurance claims. In that case, having to download and install a native app can be a real pain.

Here is a simple visualization to compare the convenience of both options from a user’s perspective. 

Native app vs PWA

2. Required memory space 

PWAs are designed to be lightweight, so they don’t take up as much space as native apps. For example, Starbucks’ PWA consumes 99.84% less space than its iOS app. There are other spectacular examples. For instance, Twitter’s PWA Twitter Lite is equal to 1–3% of the size of this social network’s native app. 

Native apps require more space as users need to install them on their devices. That’s the price users pay for the extensive functionality a native app can offer and the accessibility of their personal data which is stored on the devices.

3. Battery consumption 

PWAs run from web browsers, so they often result in more battery consumption than native apps. 

Native apps: Native code is the fastest as it’s tied to the underlying OS. Therefore, native mobile applications won’t leave the user device’s battery dry as quickly as PWAs will do. 

In native mobile development, you can create a feature-rich application while making sure it consumes as little battery power as possible. Let’s say, if you build a PWA with the same functionality as a native app, it’ll consume way more battery. That is one of the reasons why PWAs are packed with lighter functionality. 

— Eduard Belianinik, Head of Mobile Development, *instinctools

4. Functionality 

PWA: Your flexibility and possibilities in terms of the solution’s functionality are limited.

Although utilizing geolocation, Bluetooth, and other device capabilities in a web application is not completely impossible, developing such a solution can become a getting-blood-from-a-stone experience. Plus, no matter how much effort you put into it, you won’t get the same results as a native app can provide.

— Eduard Belianinik, Head of Mobile Development, *instinctools

However, you can still use other ways for user engagement, such as push notifications. This feature is not available for iOS, but if most of your customers use Android OS, it’s worth trying PWA.

Native apps: When it comes to hardware interactions (GPS receivers, Bluetooth, camera, etc.), a native application is your best bet. From smart watches to smart houses, all these solutions require Bluetooth connectivity. This function is also vital for healthcare apps such as the one for blood glucose measuring.

The same works for GPS. Bonnet, one of our clients, came up with a solution that helps EV drivers access the public charging infrastructure. Naturally, it requires the user’s geolocation data, so the solution could only be built in a native app. 

Retailers can also benefit from GPS integration, using push notifications to promote in-store deals to nearby customers.

5. Personalization level 

Personalization depends on how long you foster a relationship with a user. If they allow the native application to collect data, you can collect it from sensors and hardware. And in the case of PWA, you can only collect data at the browser level. 

— Eduard Belianinik, Head of Mobile Development, *instinctools

PWA can’t offer extraordinary personalization to your users, and there is no way to change that — yet. Yes, you can provide personalized push notifications based on the customer’s activity on the web application, but only until the user resets the browser settings, and you’ll have to start building a personalized experience all over again.

Native apps: If you want to provide users with a first-class personalized experience, it’s better to invest in native app development. For instance, you can send push notifications based on the user’s personal data, location, purchase history, etc., and the only limitation will be the number of messages your users are willing to receive daily. 

Furthermore, you can take advantage of other personalization strategies, such as detailed segmentation during user onboarding. That’s the method Duolingo and other educational solutions follow. The app onboards a user with a series of questions to generate a curriculum tailored to the person’s learning goals.

Native app vs PWA

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6. Performance 

PWA: One of the questions our clients, who are curious about the advantages of PWA over native apps, usually ask is “Can progressive web apps be used offline?” Yes, thanks to the caching system, PWAs can be used even when you’re not connected to the internet. In fact, PWAs can offer a better user experience in low connectivity areas. Take the example of Flipkart, an ecommerce platform that needed to provide access to the website for users who only had a 2G connection. After introducing PWA, the time-on-site increased threefold, and the re-engagement rate spiked by 40%.

If you’re running a business presented online, you know that every second counts when it comes to application loading times. With progressive web apps, you can drastically improve your app’s loading speed and boost conversion rates. Deloitte states that even a 0.1-second increase in website loading can result in a 10% increase in conversions. Real-life examples confirm this observation. Pinterest’s old website needed at least 23 seconds to respond to user inputs. With PWA, this time was reduced to six seconds, leading to an immediate performance metric enhancement.

Native app vs PWA

Native apps leverage hardware and device features. Therefore, after installation, they integrate seamlessly as a part of your device and are more powerful when speaking about PWA vs native performance.

In terms of UX performance, native apps are vastly superior to PWAs. In a native application, rendering is carried out at the hardware level, while in PWA, it’s performed at the browser level. Since progressive web apps are made for all OSs, their UX needs to be unified and simplified. For example, smooth and responsive scrolling we have in iOS-based apps is beyond the reach for web applications.

— Eduard Belianinik, Head of Mobile Development, *instinctools

7. Updates  

For PWAs, the process of updates is automated and doesn’t require users’ participation — they always see the latest version in a browser. On a flip side, the customer cannot influence the app’s updates.

Native apps should be updated on both company and customer sides.

Users can set up auto updates or manage them manually to keep under control. Managing updates manually empowers customers to choose whether to install a new app’s version or stay with the one they find the most handy. With PWA, users don’t have such a luxury. 

— Eduard Belianinik, Head of Mobile Development, *instinctools

PWA vs native apps: pros and cons at a glance

We have compiled two summary tables to make the PWA and native app strengths and weaknesses transparent so that you can make a well-calculated decision.

PWA: pros and cons 

Lower development cost since you develop a single solution for all usersHigh battery consumption as it runs from a browser
Reduced maintenance cost and easy updatesLimited functionality
Advanced visibility with SEOLimited personalization 
Faster time to market due to a single code baseSEO requires more efforts than ASO 
No-download and no-installation approach for users
Takes minimum space on the user’s device
Doesn’t require user participation for updates

Native app: upsides and downsides

Upsides Downsides
Premium security due to various in-built security featuresHigher development cost as you need to develop an app for different OSs and various devices
Efficient visibility with ASOBigger maintenance costs; updates may be tricky
Low battery consumption thanks to the fast native codeSlower time to market because of building solution for different OSs
Boundless functionality (GPS receivers, Bluetooth, camera access, etc.)Needs to be downloaded and installed by users
Unlimited personalization thanks to collecting user data from sensors and hardwareRequires more space on the customer’s devices
Higher performance due to using hardware and device featuresNeeds to be updated on both the company’s and customer’s sides

As you can see, while PWA may seem an attractive offer to businesses in terms of cost efficiency and time to market, the native application still has more advantages from the user’s standpoint. Budget cuts and strict deadlines can cause a shift in priorities, but as a business owner, you should read the room and provide your end users with what they are looking for. 

PWA and native app instead of PWA vs native app: friends or foes? 

There’s no rule that you cannot take advantage of both native and progressive web applications to target a larger audience — an opportunity that some companies don’t want to miss. 

When expanding to new markets, Uber uncovered that they should offer an alternative to their native app for users in locations with 2G low-speed connections. Now, with an m.uber PWA, customers have to wait only for two seconds for the app’s content to load, even under the weakest internet connection. As a result, 30% of Uber bookings are made through the web application.  

Instinctools is your tech ally, whichever option you choose

Whichever side you’ll choose in the PWA vs. native app standoff, don’t let any technical challenges hold you back. With vetted expertise in building both native apps and PWAs, *instinctools is committed to deliver best-in-class software and we’re here to share our cutting-edge knowledge with you. With our hands-on guidance and forward-thinking approach to development, you can confidently choose the solution well-suited for your users and your budget.

Remove concerns and roadblocks in your app development journey!


What is the difference between progressive web apps and native apps?

The fundamental difference is that a PWA is a website that emulates an app in its appearance and user experience. It’s a one-stop solution with a single codebase that performs equally well on all platforms and devices. Meanwhile, a native app is a software developed for different operating systems and installed from App Store, Play Store, Windows Store, etc.

Why is PWA better than native apps?

There are several advantages of PWA over native apps, such as a no-installation approach, accessibility via any web browser, and compatibility with any device without extra development efforts. Nevertheless, PWA is not better than native apps. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.They are tools to achieve different goals and reach different targeted audiences.

What are the disadvantages of PWA over native apps?

Progressive web apps still aren’t the best option when it comes to leveraging device features such as GPS, Bluetooth, camera, etc., and providing a personalized experience based on the level of access to the user’s device. For instance, push notifications are highly relevant for user engagement. For PWAs, this feature is only available on Android in a limited form.

Will PWA replace native apps?

Will cats replace dogs since they both are pets? The same is relevant for the debate regarding PWAs and native mobile apps. Each solution has its pros and cons, so one cannot fully replace the other. However, as a business owner, you should stay in the know of both options to find the golden mean between your budget limitations and users’ needs.

Should I build a PWA or a native app?

Let end-users guide you. If your audience is unlikely to download and install the app, invest in developing a PWA that doesn’t require these actions. And if you need to collect data from users’ devices to provide them with a first-class UX and CX, a native app wins. Also, consider building both a PWA and a native app to cover more customer groups.

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Chad West
Authored by Chad West,

*instinctools USA
Managing Director,
15+ years in IT consulting

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