A Progressive Web App or PWA describes a website that is “installable” on virtually any device with a browser. PWAs require less development than a native app, are accessible offline, and offer a uniform experience across mobile and desktop devices. Leading technologists are calling PWAs “the future of mobile apps” for good reason. On par performance with native apps, coupled with minimal tax on device storage make PWAs a credible alternative to consider when shopping for a new digital solution.

Dependable and low maintenance

The main selling point of progressive web apps is that they are progressive. In essence, they allow you to store an entire website on your device. PWAs can be used without an internet connection and load faster on a slow connection. Unlike native mobile apps, a PWA doesn’t need to be “updated”. Opening the PWA automatically updates any changes instantly. Their small file size mean updates occur in the time it takes to open a browser. Progressive web applications are significantly easier to build than native apps and post-launch maintenance requires less time and less resources.

Flexible and nimble

Progressive web apps require proportionately less storage when compared with their native app counterparts. Twitter’s iOS app for example, is currently over 110MB. Their PWA, which nearly mirrors the native app’s features, is just over 10MB.

Along with their reduced size, another advantage PWAs have over their native counterparts is cross-platform interoperability. Because they run in a borderless version of your browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.), they can be installed on desktops, tablets and mobile devices with a single codebase. Popular frameworks such as React and Vue can also be used, and the web currently supports device sensors like the ambient light sensor, accelerometer, microphone, magnetometer, and more.

In 2017 Forbes converted its primary mobile site into a progressive web app with a view to deliver users an enriched experience. A responsive PWA was the perfect solution; readers could access content for offline reading and according to Forbes, the new site’s more than 38 million monthly mobile readers are saving anywhere from 2 – 10 seconds with every pageview.

Familiar and engaging

PWAs are installed like a regular app via the app store or from a website itself. They open in their own window, and in fullscreen on mobile, just like a native app. They also send notifications and mimic native app functionality like swiping. Users also seem to be more engaged.

“Twitter developed Twitter Lite to deliver a more robust experience, with explicit goals for instant loading, user engagement and lower data consumption." Google case study about Twitter PWA

Twitter Lite vs Twitter’s native app:

  • 65% increase in pages per session
  • 75% increase in Tweets sent
  • 20% decrease in bounce rate

Pinterest’s PWA has also outperformed their native app in engagement since launching in 2017. Users are reportedly spending 40% more time on the platform compared to the previous mobile web experience and core user engagements have increased by 60%.

Wide support coming soon

All the latest versions of Firefox, Safari and Chrome support PWAs, with Microsoft’s Edge browser planned to have support in the coming months. For devices that don’t have support, the apps will still work the same in the browser as a normal
website, but won’t be available offline.

Expect some teething issues

Accessing progressive web apps isn’t seamless quiet yet. They can be made available through a device’s native app store, and while a new standard makes it easy to publish them on the Google play store, at the time of writing it’s still difficult to do this on Apple’s App Store.

Because they run in a browser, PWAs also don’t support native components and animations, such as the page transitions you might see while navigating the settings app on your mobile. These can be emulated, but it must be done manually, unlike native apps that can do this out of the box. As with any new technology, standards, benchmarks and best practice are still being worked out. There is always room for improvement and the reliability and versatility of PWAs make them a strong contender in an environment of device segregation.

Image of Ben Grant
Ben Grant Software Engineer

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