Websites vs Progressive Web Apps vs Native – What’s the Difference?

In the age of smartphones and the internet, every ecommerce business needs to have a strong mobile and online presence not only to attract customers, but to retain existing ones. There are many ways in which this can be done, such as websites, progressive web apps (PWA), and native apps. 

The superior option depends on what will be the best fit for a business in particular, and this article will be focusing on what the difference is when it comes to PWA vs hybrid vs native mobile apps. Let’s start with some definitions first.

Website – a collection of web pages that are related in some way that exist under a single domain name. Usually created by and concerning one organization. Only accessible with internet access. 

Native app – software that is built for a certain mobile OS. It can only be used by that OS because it is written in a programming language that’s specific to that platform (the two main choices being Android and iOS). 

Hybrid app – software that works on any mobile device, regardless of OS. 

PWA – a substitute for native apps, PWAs combine mobile applications’ and websites’ best features.


An overlook at the pros and cons of these options


Currently, most websites are considered ‘responsive’. This refers to a website that is designed for different platforms and adjusts to differences in screen sizes and layouts. 


Websites tend to be easily shareable and accessible across platforms. They don’t need to be downloaded from an app store, and have a far better reach capability as they can be accessed or even found simply via a search engine. 

They can be far more cost-effective when compared to mobile app development, especially if an organization wants their presence to be on more than one platform. 


Obviously, websites require an internet connection. They are affected by network speed, quality, and access.

Additionally, they can be limited in personalization and engagement when compared to apps. Websites cannot be as integrated with a device as an app can be, therefore are not able to leverage a phone’s capabilities as an app can.  

They can also be more difficult to navigate on a mobile device due to the smaller screen. Users can get frustrated if the user journey isn’t optimized to be concise, simple, and seamless, and that can lead to many users leaving the website and even worse, this can ultimately lead to a tarnished brand. 


Native app

Native apps are true applications unlike websites, which can be thought of as hybrid apps. This means that for the most part (depending on the specific app’s functionality), they can be used offline. Speed when using the app will not be impacted by slow server connections or any other unforeseen web issues.


This type of app is known for being fast, reliable, responsive, intuitive, fluid, and having a robust feature set. 

Content doesn’t need to be downloaded whenever users access the app as all the content is simply stored on the device. Since content isn’t streamed, native apps offer fast graphics, smooth transitions, and fluid animation. This isn’t just great for games, it’s also great for visualizations, infographics, and even visually pleasing interaction. 

Native apps are much easier to implement two-factor authentication in, as well as certificate pinning and having access to device’s unique features like Touch ID or even Face ID. 


However, because of all these benefits, native apps are more expensive to build and  deploy, which is why there is the need to develop multiple versions of the app for different platforms. Maintenance will also require two separate codebases to maintain. 

Additionally, they require more technical languages to build than hybrid apps do, and so require more experienced (and more expensive) developers.


Hybrid app

While hybrid apps look like native apps, they’re actually websites that are packaged to look like native apps. Some examples of these are Twitter, Instagram, and Uber. When people use hybrid apps, they’re actually accessing an organization’s website via a mini browser called a Webview. This means that hybrid apps require an internet connection. 


The code base is shared in hybrid apps, so this saves development time as well as money because businesses can create a single application rather than multiple. Additionally, it’s easier to maintain and update hybrid apps as they’re web technology.


This type of app cannot utilize all of the unique features of an OS like a native app can, and so don’t provide the best user experience or the highest performance.

Put simply, since hybrid apps are websites, they’re best suited to an organization that wants a content-focused app. Features that are more complex, sophisticated, or even more functional can be added with some advanced app development. This can even make hybrid apps look like a native app to users in the end, but this will drive up the cost and development time significantly. 


Progressive web app

Progressive web apps, since they combine the best of native apps and websites, have pros and cons similar to the two. The main difference with PWAs would be the distribution channels. When it comes to capabilities, there aren’t many differences between PWAs and native apps. 


Users with different devices won’t be bothered with PWAs because they are responsive to any screen size. They also behave like web apps and can be installed, which is great because users tend to engage with apps more. 

PWAs also provide a custom offline experience, which is great for travel or music apps that users should still be able to use while offline, even if not being able to access the full experience. 

They have app icons but are discoverable via search engines, and work with any browser and any input device. What’s more is that they do all of this while being cheaper to develop than native apps. PWAs have a single codebase for different platforms, and can be configured from an organization’s current web site. 

Progressive web apps also are secure, as they run on HTTPS, security protocols that mean there is no exchange between the server and clients so that data isn’t interfered with. 


There are a range of features that PWAs cannot access, which could be a device’s calendar, camera, or contacts, etc. This can limit their functionality, depending what the organization wishes their PWA to do.

Logging into a PWA with another app (like Facebook) isn’t supported, and support for offline execution is limited. 

Because PWAs are not in app stores, there is no possibility to gain users from that avenue. 

Not all devices support the full range of PWA features. 

The “right” choice

As always, there is no one ‘right’ choice. Organizations should choose what they’d like to go for based on what their unique needs are. However, to make it a little easier, here are some suggestions:

  • Native apps could be a great choice if performance, visuals, and access to devices’ hardware features are important for the app’s end goals. It would also be a great choice if money and time weren’t limited for this purpose. 
  • Hybrid apps are a great fit for an organization that doesn’t have a huge time frame or budget, doesn’t need anything super slick or visually stunning, and are happy with what is essentially a website. 
  • PWAs are right for those who are interested in a native app-like user experience, high reach and discoverability, and offline capabilities, albeit limited. 
  • Websites – well, websites are great for every organization to have, but shouldn’t be relied on solely. They should be a prerequisite because they show up in search engines and can be used for helpful information, but can’t provide a lot of other features like the other options can. 

So what’s the best fit for your organization specifically? If you still can’t decide, we can help. Here at Sphere Partners, we’d love to help you realize your vision and meet your goals. Let’s talk about your requirements and we’ll figure out the best solution together. 

With a global team of business and technology consultants, solution creators, and engineers, we deliver strategy, design, and software development to help organizations solve their technology challenges and improve productivity, enhance the user experience, and maximize growth.

We’re a strategic technology partner offering consulting services, cutting-edge software development, expert engineering teams on-demand, and enterprise platform implementations such as, NetSuite, Salesforce and Google Cloud for companies seeking to transform in a demanding digital world. 

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