So you’ve got a great idea for an app? That’s awesome! Now you have to decide how you’re going to approach building it. Unfortunately, this decision isn’t easy as there are many options available to you. Let’s break down three common approaches, (PWAs, native apps & hybrid apps) and compare them head-to-head!
First up, the humble native apps. What does it mean when an app is a “native” app? A native app is built for a specific platform (iOS or Android) using the programming language and tools native to that platform. Developers use these tools to create an .APK file for Android or an .IPA file for iOS. They can then publish these files to the relevant app store where users can download them onto their devices.
Native app pros
- Best performance. The source code is written in a language native to the device, so there’s no need for the device to transpile the code first. Also, the app is installed directly onto the user’s device which means the initial load time can almost be negated entirely.
- Access to platform-specific built-in security features and, unlike the other approaches on this list, aren’t susceptible to web-specific attacks.
- Can leverage the native UI that the user is used to on their device.
- Better access to the underlying hardware, allowing for more features that can enhance the app experience.
Native app cons
- More costly if you’re going cross-platform because you’ll likely need to hire specialists for each platform.
- It’s not possible to have a unified codebase so a new feature needs to be implemented on each platform separately.
Hybrid app pros
- No need for platform specialists. A single codebase means a single team can maintain the code for multiple platforms.
- Faster development. It’s quicker to implement a feature on a single codebase.
- Updates can be provided instantly. When you deploy new changes to the URL displayed in the web view, users will see them almost immediately (depending on cache). You don’t need to worry about users not downloading the latest app version.
Hybrid app cons
- Less performant than native apps. Since you’re loading a website from the internet, your network might bottleneck load times.
- Limited access to underlying device-specific features means a more limited app experience.
- Less secure due to being susceptible to web-based attacks and not having access to platform-specific built-in security features.
PWAs, or Progressive Web Apps, are the newest kids on the block, relatively speaking. They’re built using the same web-based technologies as hybrid apps but aim to provide a more native-like experience. They allow for features like push notifications or offline support, which hybrid apps can’t do out of the box. This is achieved through making use of some newer browser features like the web app manifest and service workers. Because they’re essentially just hybrid apps with added features, you can turn almost any web app into a PWA, you just need to set them up correctly.
- All of the benefits of a hybrid app.
- Offline support. The web wasn’t designed with offline support in mind, as such, common hybrid apps that make use of the web cannot be accessed without an internet connection. Native apps do have this ability, but by making use of a ServiceWorker, finally, web-based apps have an answer to this formerly insurmountable hurdle.
- No need to install the app to start using it.
- Limited browser support.
- Better hardware access than hybrid apps, but still limited compared to native apps.
- More performant than hybrid apps, less performant than native.
At the end of the day, different approaches are better suited for different types of apps. Now that you know the pros and cons of each approach, you can make a better decision about which approach is right for you. Best of luck in bringing your app idea to the market!