Mobile apps, web apps and Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) may all sound similar, but they each have specific characteristics. This blog post considers the difference between these types of apps and considers what might be the best solution for publishers.

Summary 

Functionality 

Mobile Apps: Also called native apps, these are available only on smartphones, tablets, and other small touchscreen devices. To install a mobile app, you normally go through a store such as Google Play (Android), Windows Store (Windows), or App Store (iOS). 

Mobile app users often obtain relatively limited functionality compared to website users, and most of these apps concentrate on a particular goal. For example, mobile applications allow you to play games or stay in shape with a training app, while social network apps allow users to engage with others.

Web Apps: These are run in a web browser and can be made “mobile-friendly” to fit the size of the screen you’re using. You can create web applications that are as simple or as complicated as you require. They can be designed to serve a single purpose, as many mobile apps do, or they can be designed to serve multiple purposes.

A Progressive Web App (PWA) refers to a set of mobile web application development strategies that involve developing apps that feel and look like native ones. Progressive web apps, which use a web stack (JS, HTML, and CSS), combine the rich functionality and pleasant user experience associated with native apps. Simply explained, a PWA is a web app with the experience of a mobile app. Progressive web applications can be used offline as well as on low-quality connections. They can use push notifications and they are able to update themselves automatically.

How are mobile apps developed?

Mobile apps are designed to work with the operating system of a mobile device. If you have an Android phone, for instance, you will be able to download mobile apps designed for Android as it is impossible to mix mobile apps with different operating systems. Native mobile apps are built by developers using the platform’s specified language. When the mobile app is installed from an app store, if there is enough storage space on the phone, it is saved in the device’s memory and is accessible by tapping on its icon. Many smartphone apps are built to work without an internet connection.

Native apps can also access hardware and other functions on your device, such as the GPS, camera and calendar. 

How are web apps developed?

Web apps are often created by combining two types of coding languages:

  • Client-side scripting languages, such as JavaScript or CSS, rely on your web browser to run programs. 
  • Server-side scripting is typically written in languages such as Python, Objective-C, or Java. This section of code is in charge of receiving, storing and transferring data from the browser back to the server.

Web apps work by obtaining input from the user, which is typically supplied via a web form. That data is transferred back to the app server, which performs the requested task and returns the results to the browser, which can be on a desktop or mobile device. 

How are Progressive Web Apps developed?

PWAs have several distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from traditional web and native apps. These apps are built using the concept of gradual enhancement. Progressive enhancement is a web design technique that aims to provide basic features and content to all users, independently of browser or connection strength, while giving more advanced page versions to users with modern browsers. The installation is straightforward and consists of visiting a website and adding it to a device’s home screen. Also, a PWA can be shared using a URL, making them easier to find.

Mobile apps, web apps and Progressive web apps compared

App Model User Installation Connection Availability Update delivery
Mobile App Downloaded straight into a mobile device via an app store, taking up storage
space on the device.
It usually depends
on the app. Some
of them require a connection,
while some do not.
Users can access an update as soon as it becomes available on the App Store.
Web App There is no need for installation on a device.  The app can’t work
without a connection. 
Users can access an update as soon as it becomes available.
PWA There is no need for installation on a device. To use the app, the user must add the website to their home screen. Service Worker API
(probably today’s most essential API), has
allowed cached offline webpages to
become a reality.
This means that
even if your readers
are in a place with bad network connectivity,
they can still access your information.
PWA are able to update themselves automatically.

Which one should you choose?

The choice between a mobile app, web app and PWA should be based on the publisher’s long-term goals. Games and other independent projects, for example, maybe better suited for a mobile app. Web apps and PWAs, on the other hand, can help reach a larger audience because they can be accessed by anyone with a web browser. Furthermore, with a web app, you don’t have to worry about device compatibility.

There are various kinds of web pages; some are static and rarely updated, while others are dynamic and need a lot of intervention and updates. For this type of site, it is preferable to use a web app as they are easier to maintain and update. 

Since their pages are pre-cached, PWAs are quick, and they can be considerably faster. This can provide a significant benefit to publishers since viewers will return to the news website knowing that their information is consistently fast-loading.

If advertising is your chosen method for monetization, PWAs have numerous opportunities, with the potential to show various different ad formats and connect to multiple ad networks. Banner advertisements and interstitial ads are two of the most frequent formats. Ads can be displayed on a PWA’s home view, list view and display view.

So, if mobile app-specific functionality (like access to a camera or geolocation) isn’t required for your website content, it may make more sense to go with a PWA. It’s no surprise that renowned news organizations like the Financial Times and The Washington Post have recognized the advantages of using PWAs to publish content.

Clickio Prism

Clickio Prism is a cloud-based mobile template that allows publishers to easily create a Progressive Web App version of their site. Prism uses smart lazy loading, full-site caching and a global CDN to ensure pages always load quickly. It also includes built-in navigational features such as instant swipe and infinite scroll, which encourage visitors to spend longer on the site viewing more content, and advertising. On average, sites using Prism see a 45% increase in time on-site and a 59% increase in session RPM.

See what difference Prism can make to your site with a free A/B test against your current site – or contact us to find out more.