Progressive web apps—or PWAs—can be useful in certain business cases, but how do they compare to traditional mobile apps? The question of PWAs vs mobile apps is becoming an increasingly common one amongst business owners, company leaders and others who are considering a new app. So, what are the similarities and differences between PWAs and mobile apps and how can they impact functionality and user experience?

Is a PWA or a traditional mobile app best for your needs?

Image Source: Unsplash user Andrew Neel.

PWAs vs Mobile Apps: What Are the Technical and Operational Differences?

First, it’s important that you understand how progressive web apps differ from traditional mobile apps. PWAs are web-based applications that do not require any sort of download onto a mobile device, as is the case with classic apps. However, you can still click on a home screen icon to access the PWA on your device. To put it very simply, a PWA is a web viewer that provides access to specific information and functionality defined by the product owner.

Unlike a mobile-optimized website, progressive web apps can also include features such as push notifications, which were previously only available on mobile apps.

Unfortunately, and unlike traditional mobile apps, PWAs require a constant internet connection to work. Their response times are generally slower because they rely so heavily on a strong internet connection.

While mobile apps stow operationally-critical elements on your device, PWAs pre-cache key elements that are vital for basic app functionality. This way, the PWA user can continue using a very limited portion of the elements within the interface, even if they’re temporarily without connectivity.

On the other hand, many mobile apps can be fully functional even without any internet connectivity at all. Although, there is a significant degree of variation in terms of how much of the app can be utilized without a consistent cellular or WiFi connection, depending on what it actually does.

PWAs generally use less data while interacting with the app but pre-caching does require data consumption that wouldn’t necessarily be needed for a mobile app since it would stow essential resources on the device.

Who is Best Served by a PWA?

PWAs tend to be best-suited to individuals who require a rapidly-evolving platform that is engaging but has little or no need to leverage device hardware (such as the camera and GPS hardware).  

A PWA doesn’t need to be updated as frequently as a mobile app, so it’s great for an application that’s advancing in a manner that would make traditional app updates impractical or inconvenient. PWAs can be a good solution if the alternative is a mobile app that would be excessively large to the point where users would be likely to uninstall it.

Progressive web apps can also serve as a two-in-one website and mobile app, which may be great for companies on a tighter budget, although it’s likely you’ll compromise functionality to some degree. Many more complex functionalities can only be achieved with a traditional mobile app.

PWA-based content can also be made visible to search engines, which may be useful for companies that wish to promote their in-app content to the public. For instance, if you have a PWA that serves as a buying and selling portal for virtual yard sales, then search engine visibility of those listings could lead to more sales and a higher profit margin. In other cases, search engine visibility may not be necessary or even desirable, making a traditional mobile app the better choice. This may be relevant for enterprise apps, B2B apps or other apps where you are not seeking to target the general public and/or have information within the app you would like to keep outside of the public realm.

Who is Best Served by a Traditional Mobile App?

Mobile apps remain the better choice for many companies, particularly those that require constant connectivity due to the real-time nature of the app’s functionalities. For instance, if you have an ecommerce app, real-time processing would be crucial to ensure that payments are processed and stock availability is accurately reflected.

Traditional mobile apps also have much greater flexibility in terms of functionality. There are some major limitations for PWAs due to the ways in which they interact with your device.

The classic mobile app is also better-suited to companies that require lightning-fast performance at all times. PWAs rely much more heavily on connectivity, whereas an app can theoretically maintain 100% functionality regardless of whether you have a cellular or WiFi connection.

Mobile apps can also be more easily integrated with other emerging technologies, such as predictive analytics, natural language processing and augmented reality. This is a serious advantage if you’re seeking a cutting-edge app with innovative functionalities. In fact, the team at SevenTablets specializes in these new technologies, including (but not limited to!) machine learning, blockchain, predictive analytics, augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and natural language processing.

Based in Dallas, SevenTablets also serves Austin and Houston, although we work with clients nationwide. If you’re ready to discuss your project, contact our team today.

 

Prototype Your App to Success

Lacey Williams-McGhee

Lacey Williams-McGhee

Marketing Director at SevenTablets
Lacey Williams is a marketing and design professional living in the great state of Texas. When she's not working hard at the SevenTablets headquarters or designing products for her side gig, she can be found exploring new restaurants, hanging out with her husband and walking her golden retriever.

Lacey earned a B.A. from Baylor University. Sic'em!
Lacey Williams-McGhee