Native, Hybrid, or PWA: the App labyrinth demystified

July 5, 2023

In the digital world, finding the right type of app can sometimes feel like a real adventure. In this guide, we will navigate together through the labyrinth of terms - native apps, hybrid apps, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), and web applications.

Native apps: tailor-made masterpieces

First, let’s explore the world of native apps. Imagine them as perfectly fitted suits, tailored for each mobile operating system. They seamlessly blend into the user interface of your operating system, providing a top-notch user experience. You can find these applications in app stores or marketplaces, where you download and install them on your mobile device.

Native apps have long been the gold standard on mobile devices and are still widely used. However, they got competition in the recent years.

Web applications vs. native apps: the showdown

Then where is the difference with web applications? Unlike native apps, web applications are more like “one-size-fits-all” solutions. They are internet-based and accessible through the web browser of your mobile device - no download or installation required. But let’s dive deeper and take a closer look at the differences from a developer's perspective:

  • Development effort: developing a native app is like building a house on different plots of land - you need a separate blueprint and specific building materials for each mobile operating system. Web applications, on the other hand, are like a motorhome, they run on any device without changes or adjustments. This means that the development effort is lower and more cost-effective for web applications.
  • Function accessibility: with a native app, you can access all the features of your smartphone, such as the accelerometer or the camera with all its features. Web applications have limited access to these device-specific functions.
  • Updates: with native apps, you can immediately take advantage of new operating system features, but the updates have to be installed on the end devices first. Web applications often need to be adapted first.
  • Maintenance: new versions of native apps need to be deployed through app stores or other servers and installed by users on their devices. With web applications, it is sufficient to install the new version on the web server. Users will automatically use this version.

Now that you’re familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of web applications and native apps, let’s explore the situations where one option may be more favorable than the other.

The fascination of native apps

Despite the higher effort and costs involved, many prefer native apps. The reason? They are secure, high-performing, and tailored to specific needs.
Native apps excel in security features that set them apart from web applications. Manipulating images? Easy in web applications, while native apps prevent this. The same goes for GPS data: Native apps can block GPS spoofing, whereas web applications often face limitations.
It’s not just security that speaks in favor of native apps, but also performance. An app optimized for a specific device or operating system runs smoother and faster than a generic web application, which is limited to the browser's resources.
Moreover, you can optimize a native app for a specific device, making it more efficient for your users. When developing for multiple devices and browsers, compromises are inevitable due to different system requirements and browsers.

The best mix: Hybrid apps and PWAs

But what if we could combine the best parts of native apps and web applications? Voilà, enter hybrid apps and PWAs.
Hybrid apps are web applications packaged in a container that can run on different operating systems, which means they can also run on different devices. The beauty of hybrid apps is that they can leverage the native features and interfaces of the operating systems and devices, albeit with some limitations. That’s why they are faster to develop and more cost-effective than native apps. The only downside is that their maintenance is similar to that of native apps. They need to be rolled out in the app stores and downloaded onto devices whenever there is a new version of the app.
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), on the other hand, work differently. They don’t require app stores for distribution. Users can access them directly through their browsers. Currently, this is possible in Chrome and Firefox, with others expected to follow suit. The standout feature of PWAs is their ability to work offline. Maintainers of PWAs can also profit from indexing of their contents in search engines.
PWAs are developed just like web applications, following the principle of “write once, run anywhere.” They require little to no adjustments for different devices and operating systems. New versions are immediately available in the browser. The only downside is that their performance may sometimes not match that of hybrid apps, as they rely on the resources of the browser they run in.

The agony of choice: Which technology is right for your project?

The decision of whether you need a native app, web application, hybrid solution, or PWA for your project depends on your specific requirements. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages and requires careful consideration. A thorough analysis of your needs, resources, and goals is key to finding the optimal solution.
Remember, we’re here to accompany you on this exciting journey. If you’d like to dive deeper into this topic, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re looking forward to assisting you in choosing the right app technology and bringing your project idea to life successfully.

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