In the ever-evolving world of mobile app development, you've likely stumbled upon two standout options: Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and Native Apps. As a savvy business leader, it's crucial to understand what sets them apart so you can make an educated decision. So, let's dive right in.


What Exactly Are PWAs?

Imagine a web app that feels like it was born to be on your phone. That's a PWA. These web apps have been jazzed up with some seriously cool features, like offline capabilities, push notifications, and home screen icons. The big win here? They can run on any device with a web browser, making them incredibly accessible.


And What About Native Apps?

Native apps are the homebodies of the app world; they like to stick to their kind. Designed specifically for individual platforms like iOS or Android, they're built in the platform's native programming language. This manner of build allows them to exploit the device's hardware and capabilities fully, making them robust and feature-packed.


A Brief Stroll Down Memory Lane: The Origins of PWAs and Native Apps

Native Apps: The OGs of Mobile Experience

Let's go back to 2007. The world got its first taste of the iPhone, and boom! Native apps took center stage. These apps were the brainchild of platform-centric development. Apple's iOS and later Google's Android each had their app ecosystems, complete with their programming languages—Objective-C/Swift for iOS and Java/Kotlin for Android. The concept was simple: create apps that leverage the full firepower of the device they're on.

Native apps exploded in popularity because of their custom-tailoring for the device's hardware and software, allowing them to tap directly into a phone's camera, GPS, and even accelerometer. Fast forward to today, and native apps are still the go-to for businesses that need high-performance, feature-rich applications. They're like the Swiss Army knives of the app world—packed with features and versatile but somewhat bulky.

Progressive Web Apps: The New Kids with Big Dreams

Now, fast-forward to around 2015. The web was evolving, smartphones were in almost every pocket, and a gap existed. Web apps existed but lacked the charm and capabilities of native apps. Enter Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), a term coined by Google engineers Alex Russell and Frances Berriman.

PWAs aimed to combine the best of web and mobile and promised the universality of the web—accessible to anyone, anywhere, on any device—with features that used to be exclusive to native apps. Think offline access, push notifications, and home screen icons.

PWAs were able to offer a close-to-native experience without the need for app stores or device-specific programming. They're like the food trucks of the tech world—easier to set up more accessible, but with a slightly limited menu compared to a full-blown restaurant (read: native app).


The Nitty-Gritty: How Do PWAs and Native Apps Differ?

Here's the lowdown:

  • Accessibility: PWAs are the social butterflies that get along with any device sporting a web browser. Native apps, however, play favorites with specific platforms.
  • Performance: Sure, native apps can be Hercules-strong and loaded with features, but they might keep you waiting at the door with slower load times.
  • Development: Building a PWA is generally a walk in the park compared to the marathon that is native app development.
  • Distribution: While PWAs can roll out via the web with the snap of a finger, native apps need to go through the formalities of app stores.


The Good, The Bad, and The PWA


  • Accessible: Open to anyone with a web browser.
  • Fast: These babies load in a flash, even on less-than-stellar connections.
  • Engaging: Think offline support and push notifications to keep your users hooked.
  • Secure: Locked and loaded with HTTPS, just like their native counterparts.


  • Less Powerful: Expect them to utilize only some nook and cranny of device features.
  • Adoption: They're still the new kid on the block, so their user base might be less significant.


Native Apps: What's to Love and What's Less Lovely


  • Powerhouse: These apps can flex all the device's muscles—camera, mic, you name it.
  • Feature-Rich: Think of a feature, and a native app can probably support it.
  • Widespread Adoption: They're the popular kids in the app world, so reaching users is more straightforward.


  • Limited Access: They're picky about the devices they'll hang out with.
  • Slow to Load: Patience is essential; they can take their sweet time loading.
  • Complex Development: More features often mean more development headaches.


Factors to Weigh in Your Decision

  1. Target Audience: Who are you looking to impress? A PWA might be the way to go if your crowd uses various devices.
  2. Features: Need the whole shebang when it comes to device features? Then go native.
  3. Resources: Limited time or budget? A PWA can be your fast track to app glory.
  4. Distribution: Think about how you'll get your app into people's hands. The web makes PWAs easy to share, whereas native apps need to pass the app store test.


Final Thoughts

Native Apps were born in an era when the concept of a "smartphone" was still new and mind-blowing and engineered to squeeze every ounce of capability out of those early devices. PWAs, on the other hand, were conceived as a solution to the limitations of web apps, offering a universal alternative to the platform-specific world of Native Apps.

The PWA vs. Native App debate doesn't have a one-size-fits-all answer. Your best move depends on what you need and what you've got to work with. Armed with this knowledge, you're well on your way to choosing to fit your business like a glove.


Start with: What problem are you trying to solve? 

One of the activities we work through revolves around refining your problem statement. A problem statement is the key business problem that needs to be solved. In software development, it states “what has to be done” for a project to succeed. It does not say, “how it has to be done.”

We use the 5W’s + 1 H format as well as the SMART Framework when establishing a problem statement. In fact, you can draft your own problem statement by using our free download. This download will get you thinking through some of the questions and answers prior to starting your project.

Download: Problem Statement
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