Are native apps still the best?


A few years ago, there was no doubt that native apps were the best way to get content out there on mobile. A native app is made to work exclusively on your phone, in the most integrated way possible. However, since about two years ago, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) have been disrupting the norms that native established. Certain big-time apps like Facebook or AirBnB have changed their minds on their choice of technology for offering the best user experience on mobile. 
If your project is to create an app, you've surely asked yourself the question—should I make a native app? Should I make a PWA? Each of the two solutions has its advantages. Rather than seeking the answer from a technical point of view, it's better to think about which distribution channel you want to focus on: the Web or the Stores?

The stores are still the instinctive choice

Amongst smartphone user habits, looking for apps in the App Store or Google Play is still a reflex that can't be overlooked, and for good reason—92% of time spent on mobile is done via native applications (Source: Flurry). This shows just how important native is in our daily use, while the 8% of remaining time is reserved for web browser usage. This time spent using native apps, however, happens in just a handful of apps. If you manage to be a part of this handful of apps favored by your user, that means you've triumphed in a very aggressive and competitive environment, as it is very difficult to set your app apart in the stores and get it downloaded. Luckily, native apps have a number of elements they can leverage to convince users to download—their titles, descriptions, and screenshots. Standing out is a challenge, but it's not impossible
The native app is still an entryway for interacting with your user. It is installed directly on the smartphone home screen and allows you to form links with your audience, especially through sending push notifications. A Native App isn't in everyone's reach, so having one really takes your image up a notch and conveys a sense of seriousness to your audience. The positive reputation of the stores can be an advantageous bonus—adding their logo or a QR download code to your communication media is a good option.  

Mobile web on the rise

If you decide to broadcast your content on the mobile web (with a Progressive Web App for example), several traffic acquisition sources are available to you. Referral (partner sites), direct via the URL, organic (search engines) or social (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). This is quite a large range of options for promoting your content and acquiring users. Your acquisition policy is totally in your hands. 
As the content of your Progressive Web App is indexed by search engines, this leaves you more chances to appear in a long-tail keyword searches. If you write content on a specific subject, the people interested can find you via a Google search, which is something that's much harder to do with a native app. Players like Facebook have tried to impose a standard for reproducing hyperlink functionality in native apps, but haven't succeeded. 
Another advantage of PWAs is that they are accessible not only on all types of smartphones, but also on tablets and desktop. All browsers are compatible. That means that even if you don't have a website, your PWA will be visible on large screens with an adapted design. And as there is no need to download them, the PWA doesn't take up any disk space on any device. 
As a PWA is accessible via a URL, there are no entry barriers. You can very easily promote them, add them to your communication materials, and send them out via email or SMS—the URL is a very powerful communication tool. The URL is universal and the user can access it from any web browser. 
Finally, thanks to Service Workers, the behavior of a PWA is a lot like that of a Native App. It's possible to access it offline, to send push notifications, and to preload content to offer a smooth experience. Apart from the limitations concerning Geofences and Beacons, and of course sending push notifications on iPhones, the line between PWAs and Native Apps is very fine. Concerning this problem, GoodBarber offers an alternative solution to get around it, which is sending push via SMS

A difficult choice

To choose between distributing an app on the Web or in the Stores, you must also take some other parameters into account. 

If you want to use certain geolocation functionalities, you'll definitely have to go the Store route (App Store or Google Play). As we saw, PWAs offer geolocation features but not geofencing or beacons. These features can be important when promoting a business, for example. 
With regards to Apple, certain PWA features haven't been dealt yet within the iOS mobile environment. We already mentioned push, but there's also the option to easily install a PWA onto a home screen. It's possible to do so, but you have to go into the settings of the browser, and not everyone is aware of this. On Android, as soon as you visit a PWA, a pop-up appears directly offering for you to add the app to the home screen. 
Your audience is also very important in your choice of distribution channel. Android is the most highly used OS in the world . However, in certain countries (like in the UK or USA), the market is split. In general, in audiences whose members identify as executives or who have liberal professions, iPhones are the majority. 


All concepts around the mobile web tend to meet to offer a better experience to users. As we saw above, the majority of time spent on our Smartphones is in Native Apps. However, the mobile web is on the rise. It's hard to favor one of the two concepts. 

For a creator who doesn't have technical resources or a budget to take on developers, an App Builder is a good alternative for reaching all distribution channels.

At GoodBarber , our goal is to offer a tool that allows the user experience to be the same on all channels (Web, iOS, and Android) at an affordable cost. 

Why choose—go for both web and native!