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Native, Cross-Platform, or PWA — What to choose in 2021?

Volodymyr Hodiak
Volodymyr Hodiak
212 October, 29, 2021 14 min read
212 October, 29, 2021 14 min read

If you are reading this article, we assume that you came here for an answer to the question of which is better: native, cross-platform, or PWA (Progressive Web Application). Despite the fact that we would hate to leave your questions unanswered, it is impossible to give an answer to this one. 

The fact is that the confrontation of native vs cross-platform vs progressive web app can be compared to such a question as: “Which is better, a spoon or a fork?” You cannot eat soup with a fork, and you can barely eat pasta with a spoon. Those are the tools designed for specific situations. In the same way, native apps, cross-platform apps, or PWA may suit one project better than the other. 

However, such preliminary conclusions do not mean that this article is completely useless. In fact, the knowledge of the possibilities of your tools provides you with an opportunity to choose the right one, the one that will lead you to the success of your project.

What is a Native Application?

Kotlin vs Swift

In order to compare native applications vs cross-platform apps vs PWA, we should start from the basics, namely, native ones. A native app is a piece of software that is specifically designed to suit one of the mobile platforms, Android or iOS. Applications for Android are made with Java, and those for iOS are made with Objective C or Swift. 

In order to compare native applications vs cross-platform apps vs PWA, we should start from the basics, namely, native ones. A native app is a piece of software that is specifically designed to suit one of the mobile platforms, Android or iOS. Applications for Android are made with Java, and those for iOS are made with Objective C or Swift. 

Native App Strengths

Native applications work on the OS of a device, and due to the fact that they take into account the specifics of the platform they were designed for, they are a perfect match for it.

  • A native application can access and operate the hardware, which allows them to fully utilize the specifics of the platform. This means that they use the functionality of the mobile device to the fullest extent, including camera, microphone, Bluetooth, contact list, and other. 
  • Besides, native apps are supported and updated once the new version of the platform is released. They make use of any upgrades and new features of the respective platform. However, this is achieved through constant updates that require difficult and time-consuming maintenance.
  • Native applications provide the users with great performance, and therefore, a good user experience.

Native App Weaknesses

Taking into account the benefits of native app development, you may decide that this option is the best one. However, try not to jump to conclusions. Nowadays, in 2021, native development loses in popularity, and there are several serious reasons for that:

  • One of the reasons why companies avoid native development is that it is expensive. In case you want to develop an app both for both Android and iOS, you will have to create a separate application for each of them.
  • As a consequence, you will have to hire two teams of developers, as well as spend more money on QA and maintenance.
  • Another consequence is that such a process is time-consuming, and therefore it cannot tolerate the risk in case you are not sure about your product.
  • Finally, a big weakness of native app development is the necessity to upload the updates to the App Store or Google Play. After that, the only thing they hope for is for customers to download those updates because whenever a platform is updated, the relative changes have to be implemented into the native software. However, users tend to omit the updates due to the lack of storage space, inattentiveness, or just basic reluctance. This leads to lagging and the desire to delete an app that does not work properly. Thus, you will constantly be afraid of losing your audience.

What is a Cross-Platform Application? 

Unlike native, cross-platform app development targets both platforms, iOS and Android. This means that you have a single codebase and do not have to develop apps separately for each of the platforms. By the way, from this codebase, you can also develop apps for desktop platforms and the web, and this may be your great advantage. Cross-platform app development presumes using frameworks, programs that are specifically designed to create applications for different platforms. There are three best-known frameworks: Xamarin, React Native, and Flutter.

Xamarin

This one is popular no more. You can find very few developers that code on Xamarin nowadays. The fact is that other frameworks have better functionality, and because of that, they surpassed Xamarin.

React Native

React Native  is currently one of the most popular ones. It is convenient and easy to learn because it is written in JavaScript, one of the most popular programming languages. A great controversy of React Native is the JavaScript bridge that can be used to connect natively-created elements to your application but takes its toll on performance.

Flutter

Flutter  is the most promising and the second most popular framework as of 2021. It constantly grows in popularity, and it is predicted to overcome React Native because of its updates and improvements by Google. Flutter uses Dart programming language, which makes it possible to omit JavaScript bridge and not to lose in functionality.

Flutter became especially good after the update in March 2021 since when it made it possible to target not just iOS and Android, but also Linux, Windows, macOS, and the Web. Moreover, the UI made with Flutter as well as its performance is indistinguishable from the native app. Thus, Flutter became our personal favorite.

Cross-Platform Strengths

  • As was mentioned above, the main advantage of cross-platform app development is the possibility to create programs for multiple platforms at once.
  • The use of a single codebase lets you save time and money.
  • In this case, you have a single team of developers, minimum required QA specialists, and in the case with Flutter, which has widgets that represent standard UI elements of each platform, you can also hire fewer designers. 
  • Furthermore, since Flutter and React Native are open-source, their code is reusable. This means that you can find already made solutions to your problems. With Flutter and React Native, you will not have to spend time coding because someone else did it for you. 
  • Also, there are tons of useful libraries that you can connect to your app. 
  • Besides, both frameworks have a friendly community, and those people can consult you on the issues you have.

Cross-Platform Weaknesses

  • One of the drawbacks of cross-platform development is that in times when, for example, iOS has an update, your cross-platform application will have to wait for that for some time. However, even in the case of native apps, they do not apply the updates at once because of the risks of the bugs. A few days have to be spent on testing even concerning the native application. 
  • Another drawback is the possibility of losing performance or imperfections of the UI. Even the right tool does not guarantee success when you do not know how to use it, but in fact, in the right hands, these frameworks can do miracles. Therefore, it is not a problem but a risk, which is justified when skillful developers put their hands to the plow.

What is a PWA?

Now that you know about native and cross-platform app development, it is high time to discuss progressive web apps . You see, it is fundamentally another approach for application development. 

In short, PWA is a web app that can operate and act as a mobile application. PWA works like this — it is a website that can be installed on the home screen of a device in order to mimic a mobile application. When you run this app, it leads you to the web page and uses the browser to empower it. Besides the basic functionality your browser provides to the website, PWA utilizes some additional ones, such as push notifications, background synchronization, and the possibility to work offline. 

PWA Strengths

  • PWA is a website that can be installed on a mobile device as a mobile app.
  • It is a really small application that will never be deleted by your user due to the lack of storage space. 
  • Moreover, while developing a PWA, you are not limited to the restrictions and rules of the Play Store or App Store, which can sometimes interrupt the development process.
  • It can work offline.
  • What is more, there is a specific situation when a PWA would be the best possible solution. It is when you already have a web application, and you want to make it available from mobile devices. The thing is that such an upgrade will be done relatively quickly, and will result in drawing more attention to your business from the new audience.
  • You don’t have to develop a separate website and mobile app, but leverage the benefits of PWA technology to have both in one shot. 
  • It will cover a wider audience since it can be run from multiple devices: desktops, mobile, and tablet devices.

PWA Weaknesses

  • The major weakness of PWA is that this application cannot fully utilize the specific functionality of a platform or a device because they are run in a browser. This means that PWAs have limited possibilities. 
  • Moreover, it has a lesser performance and fewer possibilities for a convenient UX. Therefore, PWA is a good choice for a specific situation.

Native vs Cross-Platform vs PWA. How to choose?

As we told you at the beginning of this article, there is no pure winner in a fight of progressive app vs cross-platform app vs native one. Each of them can be a perfect choice as well as the reason for failure. The key to success is to choose the right way to develop your app by taking into consideration the circumstances of your case. 

For example, a native app would be perfect if you had to develop an application for a single platform, and your business concept is guaranteed to succeed. In this case, you will put a lot of effort but will have a reliable application with the best possible performance and UX.

Cross-platform development will suit in case you need to target multiple platforms, and you need quick results that will not cost too much. In this case, you will get an app for each of the platforms you need with a good UX. This is a perfect tool for startups, but it can also be useful for established businesses.

As for the PWA, this is the cheapest option. One of its most prominent advantages is that it is especially good for targeting first-time users. For instance, you can configure it in such a way that when a user visits your website a second time or more, it offers to install your PWA. In this situation it would be logical to assume that a second-time visitor is interested, and as a consequence is your lead. 

Moreover, PWA is updated seamlessly and automatically while mobile apps require user agreement. Users often refuse to update their apps, and it leads to errors and synchronization problems in mobile applications.

Another plus is that you can quickly build a PWA when you already have a web app or while building a website. Do not create a PWA in case you need a powerful app with a lot of functionality, which is targeted at mobile users.

Finally, PWA is a good choice for your business independence. The thing is that Google Play and App Store have lists of requirements and restrictions that you have to obey to upload your app. One of the examples is that sport betting apps are forbidden in Google Play. Thus, in case you develop a PWA, you do not have to depend on such policies. 

MVP

Imagine a situation where you have to develop an MVP. So, which option is the best? Let us compare native applications vs PWA vs apps written for several platforms.

Native

In the case of native development, it would be quite reasonable to create an app for one platform, iOS for instance, if you target the iPhone audience. The development process would not be quick, but the application will be reliable and high-performing. In case your MVP proves itself profitable and demanded, your native iOS app will be your strength. However, you will have to quickly develop a similar Android app, which will also take a lot of time and will cost you extra money. As you can see, the price of native development is the greatest among the three methods in this article, but the issue of budget, as well as the development speed, is critical when MVP is concerned. Thus, native development is not the best option for MVP.

Cross-Platform

Cross-platform app development might be the best choice for your MVP. The reason for that is fast development and lower price (compared to the native). With such frameworks as Flutter or React Native, your development team will work as a whole for all the platforms at once. This will also reduce the cost of the project. Moreover, if you use Flutter, it will accelerate the development further because of its widgets that have ready-made UI elements and other things that will come in handy. In this case, if your MVP succeeds, you will maintain the app effortlessly.

PWA

PWA development also presumes to code once and cover all possible user types: desktop, mobile, and tablet. As you can see above, it is an enormous benefit in MVP development, when the timing is critical. PWA also has a unique benefit that differs it from two previous options. Since it is a web app, you do not have to place it in the App Store, and therefore, you do not have to wait for the approval and other manifestations of bureaucracy, and this brings the release date closer. Besides, PWA can be shared, searched, and unobtrusively offered to be downloaded. It is because its technology makes it possible to analyze whether a user is interested in your website, and in case they are, they get a notification that asks if the user wants to download the app. Thus, if you develop an MVP by means of PWA you will get a lightweight application in a short period of time, and it will not cost you a fortune.

Summary

When it comes to the choice between native vs PWA vs cross-platform development, remember that all of them are different ways to approach your business problem. This means that the right choice may depend on the situation.

Here is the table that illustrates the differences between the three:

As you can see from the information above, some business owners may choose native development due to their specific reasons, and what they receive is reliable, but at the same time, the most time-consuming and expensive app. Such a choice may be justified in case an app has to have a lot of features as well as access to device-specific functions. 

However, your project does not always require those features that are available only with native development, and thus, it allows you to omit the investment of so much time and money. If you are open to the novelties, we would recommend you choosing cross-platform or PWA development in most situations.

Cross-platform is a perfect alternative for native app development. With such frameworks as React Native or Flutter, you can achieve high performance and pleasant UX. Moreover, this approach presumes almost double speed and cost-efficiency, while the end result will be indistinguishable from a native app. 

As for PWA, it is a quick and a lightweight solution if you want to create e-commerce or a social website. Like cross-platform, it may be a good option for an MVP or a startup. Besides, if you already have a web application, it is relatively easy to transform it into PWA.

Are you still not sure what to choose? You can always count on our advice because before taking any project, we discuss the specifics as well as consult our potential clients. Do not hesitate to drop us a line .