Web Apps, PWAs, Cross Platform and Native, What Should I Build?

Alexander Karan
13/2/2019 | 4 min read

Technology is moving fast and every day there seems to be a new way to build an app, and their way is the best, everyone has convinced themselves. Tech people are funny; we are all convinced on some level that one type of language or platform is better than others, even at Apps People we have a friendly jest about the best way to build an app. Our Android and iOS team have quite the friendly fire back and forth about whose platform is superior, resulting in the creation of many memes between the two groups via Slack.

The truth is no one platform is better; it pains me to say this as someone who hit my stride as a developer when I entered the world of native iOS. You should pick the platform that best suits your needs. So let’s break down four most common ways to build an application for a start-up or business web apps, PWA’s, cross-platform and native. Do not worry if these terms mean nothing to you, I will explain along the way.

Web apps

These are like souped-up websites. Look at the use cases of the problem you are trying to solve. Will most of your users, be on a desktop, for example an accounting system? Do you need GPS and image capturing abilities? No? Then a web app is right for you. Admin panels, statistic tracking, accounts, graphs? These are a few things you would use a web app for rather than a mobile app. Web apps are also mobile responsive if built right, meaning your users can access them on the go from the browser in the phone as long as they have internet access.

Web App: ClimateClever is an innovative data-driven and engaging application designed to help schools measure, monitor, compare, and reduce their carbon footprint. Built specifically as a web application to target its main target audience — schools with students and teachers using desktop computers.

Progressive web apps

Commonly referred to as PWAs, these are like web apps, but they take it to the next level and act a bit like the native apps on your phone. You can install them on your phone, tablet and desktop right in the browser. PWAs don’t take up much space and can even send push notifications and work offline as well. So if you’re looking to build a basic app that has more functionality than a web app, then a PWA is the way to go, they can even access the camera. The major downside is they cannot access all of the device’s hardware and are even more limited on iOS than on Android.

Cross platform

Ok so you need a better customer experience with background capabilities and need to store more content offline then cross-platform is for you. Cross-platform has come a long way in the last few years with some fantastic frameworks such as React Native (by Facebook) and Flutter (by Google). Both of these render native components and offer engaging user experiences over other cross-platform solutions; we actively use React Native at Apps People and have started experimenting with Flutter. If you need an app with chat features, GPS, camera and video manipulation, feeds, payment systems and most functionality then this is the place to start.

The cross-platform app, HiveXpress is an extension of the client’s existing digital platform for trading wholesale primary produce. The app allows customers to easily and quickly buy and sell produce with reputable market wholesalers. Using cross-platform enabled us to quickly build a product for both iOS and Android.

Native apps

The hardest to build but the most rewarding. If you need to do advance GPS, video manipulation, buttery-smooth auto scrolling feeds and other sophisticated features but also ensure battery efficiency then native is for you. I am not saying you cannot achieve these things in cross-platform but with native development, it’s just easier to accomplish these goals because the language you build the app in is made for your platform. Rather than using one language and trying to make the same thing happen on two very different systems with cross-platform.

AOW is a native app delivering a unique marketing product in the physical world. An app that allows adverts to reach the community through adverts on the back of cars. Built natively due to the advantages of powerful location services that the app can tap into more accurately.

There you have it; I am sure in a year, maybe two if I am lucky this might need re-writing, all the native developers might have to pick up Javascript so they can code cross-platform and PWAs. Remember, no one tech is best; it’s always about the right system for the job.

Unless it’s PHP… don’t go near that 😉