The Differences Between Web, Native, Progressive Web and Hybrid Apps

Written by: Samantha Wolhuter

illustration of a cell phone

In order to create your mobile app, you need to deploy certain development tools and applications. In this article, we’ll explain the differences between Web apps, Native apps,  Hybrid apps and Progressive Web apps so you will be able to select which one best suits your needs. If those terms closely resembled gibberish to you, then don’t worry you’ve stumbled into the right place. Here is your quick-dive into the world of app development.

Web Apps

Web apps are developed for use on any system using any browser, making them the most straightforward means to build your own application. They come in the form of a highly interactive and responsive website which is optimised for use on smartphone devices. The major social media apps you use every day, like Facebook, are examples of Web apps.

Web apps are commonly built on the front-end using JavaScript frameworks like Angular and React, which provide the necessary logic and interactivity to the browser (by interacting with API’s for data and business logic). 

The very nature of Web apps (it’s in the name) means that they can only function when connected to the internet.

Pros:

  • Does not require installation directly into a device, it rather installs into the browser
  • Highly functional owing to being able to operate on multiple web browsers without plugins or extensions
  • Affordable and easy to build
  • Use a common codebase meaning easy long-term maintenance
  • Updates can be done on the fly without requiring third-party applications – as easy as updating your website   

Cons:

  • Requires internet access to perform any and all functions
  • Commonly slow due to data accessed from a server
  • Limited features compared to other applications
  • Lack of audience exposure due to not being available on the App Store and Google Play Store, etc. 

Native Apps

Native apps, also referred to as Mobile apps, are designed to be used on a specific platform or system – Android and iOS mobile devices – meaning they are native to their operating device. Most popular apps are designed to come in two separate offerings to work on both platforms and systems (i.e. popular apps come both in iOS and Android format).  

What makes these apps so cool is that they can be downloaded and operated on your mobile device instantly from the App Store and Google Play Store. Mobile apps are designed specifically for mobile devices and are considered a lightweight version of their web app counterparts. 

Native apps do not require constant internet access in order to function, only when updates are required. So users can operate them whenever from wherever. Think of WhatsApp: even when your WiFi connection is weak or offline completely, you are still able to write a text message and it will wait in your outbox until your WiFi bars are strong again.

Pros:

  • Does not require internet access or a supported browser to function
  • Can be installed directly onto your device, translating to quicker operating times and responsiveness
  • Can access your mobile device’s system resources (i.e. camera or location) to improve usability and user experience
  • Easier to build than web apps due to the wide availability of online developer tools

Cons:

  • Requires regular user updates which can become costly to your business
  • More cost heavy than other apps as they require 2 distinct app builds for each platform (iOS and Android). Requirements of each vary, meaning more time on builds and updates are required
  • Both the App Store and Google Play Store have particular requirements in order for you to display your app on their platform. These can be costly and time-consuming 

Hybrid Apps

As the name suggests, Hybrid apps are a combination of web and mobile/native app elements, providing users and developers with the best of both worlds experience. From this, Hybrid apps are most commonly chosen for their native app convenience with added web app power and functionality rolled into one simple and functional app.

Hybrid apps are commonly built using web development tools such as JavaScript, CSS, and HTML, and then exported to be functional on multiple devices, including both iOS and Android systems and platforms. 

Pros:

  • Affordable build cost (powered by web app functionality) with benefits and functionality from more expensive native apps
  • Quicker to build than native apps but with improved features of a web app, making it a good middle ground for developers to choose from
  • Can utilise mobile device’s system resources (i.e. location and camera) 
  • Uses single codebase for simple and fast porting to other operating systems

Cons:

  • Requires constant internet connection to function
  • Requires plugins to access the device’s system resources
  • Certain features of a Hybrid app are not fully supported on every operating system which could result in costly updates and modifications for each platform

Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

Again as the name suggests, PWAs are evolved Web apps with Native app elements developed into an accessible web application with the ability to function both online and offline. Although they appear to be similar to Native apps, they are not to be found on the App Store or Google Play Store since they can operate directly in your web browser. 

This means that although an internet connection is needed to enter the app, you can use it thereafter without access to the internet. All the information is stored in a web browser’s cache so all that is required is the app to be saved onto the mobile device to give it access to your device’s system resources.

Pros:

  • Works in any supported browser
  • Good offline access
  • Faster load times than web apps
  • Quicker and easier to build than most native apps thanks to the use of a standard codebase for multiple web browser compatibility
  • Cross-platform compatible meaning only one version needs to be built (not separate for iOS and Android)
  • Access to Native app features improving its ease of use and functionality = the benefits and perks of a native app, with the codebase and cost of a web app

Cons:

  • Does not have the functionality to access all your mobile device’s system resources, meaning a Native app may still be required (depending on your product/service)
  • Demanding on mobile device’s resources which drains user’s battery’s much faster
  • Lack of system resource usage may result in a less personalised user experience

Summary

There you have it, a complete guide to understanding the basic elements of Web apps, Native apps, Hybrid apps, and Progressive Web Apps (PWA). Hopefully, this has helped you to identify which of these apps will best suit your development and product needs. 


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Samantha Wolhuter
Author info
Samantha Wolhuter
Sam is in charge of writing a big portion of WeAreBrain’s creative content. She is a digital nomad always on the go, inspiring us with her words from some of the world's most beautiful locations.
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