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The vital benefits of developing a PWA vs. a native app

Alex Husar
Alex Husar

Chief Technology Officer at Onilab

May 20, 2021


The vital benefits of developing a PWA vs. a native app

The vital benefits of developing a PWA vs. a native app

Alex Husar
Alex Husar

Chief Technology Officer at Onilab

May 20, 2021


The vital benefits of developing a PWA vs. a native app
In the continuous race for leading business positions and attracting more customers, companies pay close attention to modern technologies that emerge. For instance, progressive web apps (PWAs), which have been discussed for years, are drawing more and more adherents. A significant part of day-to-day Internet activities happens on websites' mobile version, and PWAs are created specifically for such cases. The fact remains that the number of smartphone users in the world now reaches 3.6 billion. What’s more, according to Statista, this number will grow by another 700 million by 2023.
Smartphone users per year

Therefore, it is impossible to ignore the promising web technology that combines the experience of a fast website and the convenient interface of a native application, progressive web apps. Moreover, they can be developed not only from scratch but also using toolkits like Magento PWA Studio, which makes it even easier for novices. In this article, we will look at the main benefits available to those who choose to build PWAs and go over how they differ from native ones.

PWAs vs. Native Apps: Taking the Big Picture

First and foremost, do you really understand what PWAs are? What are the differences between them and native apps?

Native Applications: A Quick Intro

Native apps have been around for quite a while and are traditionally installed on devices from mobile marketplaces. The development of such apps differs depending on the OS. For this reason, separate developer teams have to build two versions of the same native application for Android and iOS.

What are the main distinguishing features of native apps?

  • They are downloaded to the storage of a mobile device;
  • Require maintenance (updates from the user’s side with new releases and bug fixes);
  • Are tailored specifically for mobile use and have corresponding UX and UI that’s geared towards mobile-only use;
  • Support push notifications to retain clients;
  • Are a good solution for apps that users access very often (social media, messengers, banking, games, etc.).

PWAs: Major Highlights

In very simple terms, progressive web applications are an enhanced mobile version of a website. To create high-efficiency solutions, PWAs use Javascript technology to cater to the advanced expectations of mobile users. They provide unsurpassed site load speed and navigation due to progressive technologies and top-notch UX. Progressive web apps are based on modern frameworks such as ReactJS or AngularJS.

What are the main distinguishing features of PWAs?

  • They don’t need to be installed and saved in the storage of the mobile device to be used. Instead, PWAs work in any browser (both desktop and mobile);
  • They allow the user to be satisfied by fast page loading;
  • They engage the user with an intuitive and alluring interface and have adopted the best UX and UI practices of native applications;
  • You can rely on them even if there is no internet connection as they support offline mode;
  • They have an easy “Add to Home Screen” feature that allows saving the PWA to the device as a link shortcut (it actually looks like any other native application and has a tiny weight);
  • Can support push notifications (which is vital for customer retention);
  • Best-suitable for eCommerce and those business spheres where clients don’t access the app on a regular basis.

Top 6 Advantages of Progressive Web Applications Over Native Apps

Now let’s dig deeper into the main advantages that PWAs provide.

1. PWAs Require Less Investment in Development and Support

When choosing a particular service, it’s in our nature to primarily pay attention to the price. So we will begin our comparison of the two solutions from this point of view.

As shortly aforementioned, native application development requires a separate approach to different operating systems. This is why companies need to look for different teams of professionals who’ can create the same app for iOS and Android.

When do native applications make sense? They are reasonable for such business cases as banking, games, social media, and messaging (well, any app that a user will access often). But frankly, even these fields may soon replace their native applications with modern and more universal solutions like progressive web apps.

PWAs involve less development and maintenance costs than their native counterparts. They don’t require the support of numerous applications with their specialized development tools, coding languages, and resources. But the main point worthy of emphasizing is that by getting a PWA, you upgrade your desktop version too, boosting its performance alongside the mobile one.

On the whole, moving a site to a PWA is very reasonable for eCommerce websites since more and more people use their mobile devices to shop. And, frankly, there are very few successful native application examples for online retail, except for probably Alibaba. A progressive web application changes the architecture of the website from a monolithic one to a modern one with a split headless approach. And this means that by getting a PWA, you’re investing in the future and preparing your site for the changes that await eCommerce ahead.

2. PWAs Have Flash-Like Speed

Among the next main strengths of PWAs is their speed. Progressive web applications can boast incredibly good performance and content delivery thanks to the use of advanced caching, GraphQL, a modern API approach, and other solutions.

For instance, PWAs use application shells. This “move” shows the user the layout as the page content loads, signaling that content will soon appear. This is much better than when a user stares at a blank page, waiting for content to slowly load (especially when it comes to images).

Just have a look at the screenshot of the Al-Majed 4 Oud progressive web application. Do you see that although the images are missing, the layout signals that they’ll be there? In reality, the pictures take seconds to load, but the app shell is very important for perception.

Screenshots taken on the Al-Majed 4 Oud website

There’s no denying that fast speed makes users who are browsing the site satisfied with their experience. They don’t leave the site when a page takes forever to load. This definitely decreases the chances of user bounce and greatly picks up conversions. 

According to a Google research, when the page load time was tweaked from 1 to 3 seconds, the bounce rate rose by 32%. When the time was increased for another two seconds, the bounce rate peaked at 90%. Hence, quick performance is key.

Do we need to bring up how Google values page speed when ranking a website? Ultimately, with fast page opening times, a site that’s a PWA can gain a competitive advantage over others and improve its rankings. Yes, to be fair, there are some SEO-related peculiarities for progressive web apps, but if handled properly from the start right at the development stage, numerous obstacles can be avoided.

Obviously, everything mentioned above in this block compares a progressive web application to a regular website rather than to a native application. But this point is so crucial that it deserves a separate detailed mention.

3. Competitive UX\UI (Another SEO Bonus)

In the summer of 2021, updates to Google Search algorithms came into effect. According to the developers’ idea, the algorithms will consider page usability when ranking. This news made a splash among site owners and gave them a boost to think about overall site optimization, both for mobile and desktop, to provide the most convenient user experience and get to the top of search queries.

PWAs have become a solution that combines a smooth and user-friendly design and navigation that native applications usually have while being scalable. Unlike native apps, they can be found through search engines just like any other website and can boost SEO rankings. To some extent, PWAs are even superior to their native counterparts, as they are more intelligently organized.

Below is an example of the home page of the Noon online store. On the right is the web version, which, in terms of interface convenience, is like two peas in a pod with its native twin. However, the most important differences that make the PWA version more beneficial is that:

  • The native application size is 76.6 MB, which takes time to install and device memory space, whereas the PWA is almost weightless;
  • The page loading speed of the web version within the browser is very fast;
  • The PWA is scalable, with pages simply found via search engines.
Competitive UX\UI
Screenshot taken on the Noon website and iOS app

4. PWAs Run in Browsers (Thus Don’t Take up Device Storage Space)

A common problem for mobile users is the lack of free space on their devices. And progressive web apps do the trick. Thanks to them, you do not need to free up space for new programs by deleting old ones. PWAs are built into the site and don’t require downloading. They run in any browser, both mobile and desktop.

Nevertheless, for the convenience of users, many PWAs are fitted with the “Add to Home Screen” feature that allows a user to add a shortcut to their device. The PWA shortcut will look just as a native application icon would. And the best part is that most of them are not heavier than 1 MB, which is rare among native apps.

This screenshot below from the cosmetics brand Apivita is an example of how you can add the PWA shortcut to your home screen. This provides access to shopping without opening a browser and searching for the URL, providing all the benefits of PWAs.

In Browsers
Screenshot taken on the Apivita website

Giving more examples, Pinterest has switched to PWA too.  It weighs 150 KB now, up from the native apps which were 21 MB on Android and 140.3 MB on iOS. What Pinterest got in return:

  • The number of engaged users increased by 60%;
  • Advertising revenue climbed up to 44%.

The Starbucks PWA weighs 233 KB compared to the overwhelming 148 MB for the iOS mobile app. With the introduction of this feature, the company has doubled the number of daily active users. In fact, the number of orders from mobile phones is now almost the same as from desktops, if not more.

5. Possibility to Send Push Notifications

Device-specific features such as push notifications that are available in native mobile apps also found their way into PWAs. There are various ways to realize this opportunity and get the most out of your ads. When it comes to PWAs, push notifications are particularly effective.

Some statistics claim that 67.5% of users allow their apps to send them notifications across the two biggest mobile operating systems. Unlike email newsletters, blog posts, or social media posts, these notifications are displayed right in front of users’ eyes on the screen, allowing companies to promote products or services. In addition, they increase awareness as they draw attention to the brand and enhance customer retention.

6. Internet Independence

Everyone understands that we can’t browse the site if the Internet is disconnected. Previously, this problem was solved by native applications that continued to work, regardless of the speed of the Internet or its absence.

Now PWAs have also learned this, and the absence of the Internet doesn’t interrupt their work due to the advanced data caching by the application. This technology, known as Service Workers, provides a programmatic method for caching resources.

Unfortunately, users still can’t make an order or open other pages that they haven’t loaded before. However, they can add products to the cart, and the page will refresh when the signal appears once again. Also, it is caching that makes it possible for the page to load in the blink of an eye.

To Conclude

The ability to use PWAs directly from the browser even with an unstable connection or offline, the convenience of the app-like interface and lightning-fast page opening speeds, and push notifications give reason to consider this technology of the future. Google actively hails it, and this will have an impact on the broader adoption of PWAs.

For sites that care about their traffic in the 2020s, it is becoming more and more difficult to survive the competition if you don’t measure up to high standards of security and speed. Therefore, the creation of PWAs is a big step to modify sites for those who haven’t improved them for a long time.

Like any Internet technology that can increase brand awareness and conversions, PWAs will help enhance website performance and bring much more benefit for website promotion in search engines.

Significant benefits of building a PWA vs. a native app
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