What Are Progressive Web Apps or PWAs?


WDF agency

07 Mar, 2023
Progressive Web App or PWA is a website that looks and behaves as if it is a mobile app. Best of both worlds. It was hailed as the next big thing a few years ago. The companies like Google and Microsoft are part of the PWA movement and there is no sign that they will be giving up on it any time soon. Keep reading to find out what PWA is, how it works and if it is the right solution for you.

In our previous blog post we've talked about the differences between mobile and web apps . But if you can't decide which one to choose for you business there is also another solution - The progressive Web App.

What is PWA?

A progressive web app (PWA) is a website that looks and behaves as if it is a mobile app. PWAs are built to take advantage of native mobile device features, without requiring the end user to visit an app store, make a purchase and download software locally. Instead, a PWA can be located with a search engine query and accessed immediately through a browser.

PWAs are written in JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. They look and behave just like regular web pages (which means they are searchable in internet browsers). However, they also deliver functionalities identical to those provided by mobile apps: they are fast, can work offline, send push notifications, and use the features of user devices.

PWAs eliminate the need to develop native apps for multiple mobile operating systems. The goal of PWAs is to blur the distinction between native apps and the mobile web by bringing most of the benefits of native mobile apps to the mobile browser.

Progressive Web Apps: Benefits of Progressive Web Apps

The main benefits of implementing PWA include improved speed and performance, app-like UX and multi-platform usage. However, those are just a few examples from a broad pool of PWA advantages. Let’s take a closer look at all of them.

1. Easy Installation And Platform Independence

Because they are directly delivered through the web, they do not require installation such as with native apps. Users can use them as easily as browsing the web with added features and faster return times. In case users wish to install these apps, the process is very simple and quick.

What’s more, with PWA you don’t need to develop two separate apps for iOS and Android, as it works on all kinds of devices.

2. Relatively Low Costs

A normal web application's systems development life cycle consists of extensive processes. Creating a dynamic web application that fulfills user requirements takes a lot of time and effort. But with progressive web app development, that time and effort can be slashed to a great extent.

You don’t only save time but also cut down on development costs. To put it simply, instead of developing three entities – app for iOS, Android, and website - you can build just one that works well on any device.

Also, PWA doesn't require presence in app stores, which means no fees. But it is possible to upload your PWA to AppStore or Google Play.

3. Offline Capabilities

One of the other considerable advantages of PWAs is their ability to support offline mode. Google offers a number of official libraries that can be used to ease the development process to achieve this. The capability can also be used as advanced caching strategies to enhance user experience with reduced page load time and network traffic.

4. Improved Performance

Progressive web apps have time and again proved their high and steady performance even compared to some native apps. With limited downtime and consistent user experience, businesses investing in PWAs can expect a higher ROI than most web apps. Some large businesses have also reported reliable performance from PWAs on slow or unreliable networks. This can be credited to the lightweight of these apps.

5. Decreased Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

PWA enables you to build websites that ask the user to install the app directly from their mobile browser. This means users don’t need to visit an app store and download a native app to be able to use it. This increases the chances that they will give it a go.

In contrast with native apps, in the case of the PWA app there’s no need to download updates, either.

This makes it much more likely to successfully guide users from the website to the native-like app. This in turn lowers the customer acquisition cost.

6. Better SEO results

One of the main benefits of PWAs is the fact that they speed up the process of the application being indexed in Google. They have URLs like standard web pages, which means that Google is able to crawl and index it.

Additionally, the full Server Side Rendering (SSR) implementation provides crawlers with complete documents for indexing – this is especially important for big eCommerce stores.

Search engines like smooth, fast apps with limited retention, and promote them with a higher ranking in search results. And, as we all know, the higher the position, the greater the chance of grabbing the user's attention.

Not to mention that website performance decreases the bounce rate—a metric that also impacts how Google evaluates a site and determines its position in SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

Disadvantages of PWAs

Compatibility with iOS

Since iOS 11.3, it’s been possible to run PWAs on Apple devices, but you can forget about compatibility with older devices. What’s more, Apple doesn’t allow PWAs to access many important features, including Touch ID, Face ID, ARKit, Bluetooth, serial, altimeter sensor, and even battery information.

Issues with legacy devices

PWAs have been around for just a few years, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that older mobile devices with outdated web browsers don’t support them too well. While this problem will inevitably solve itself in the future, it may be a source of customer complaints for some companies.

PWAs can’t do everything

As capable as PWAs are compared to traditional web apps, they can’t do everything mobile apps can do. Because they are written in JavaScript, they are not as battery efficient as apps written in native languages, such as Kotlin or Swift.

Their performance is also not as good as the performance of native apps, which has a lot to do with the fact that JavaScript is a single-threaded programming language. At the moment, access to certain important device features is still missing, including Bluetooth, proximity sensors, ambient light, advanced camera controls, and others.

What’s the difference between Progressive Web Apps and Native Mobile Apps?

Both native apps and PWAs offer a big improvement in user experience over regular, mobile-responsive websites. But between these two solutions, there clear differences, pros and cons.

Here’s a summary of the main benefits of each:

Progressive Web Apps

  • Easier and faster to build
  • Lower cost to maintain
  • Discoverable via Google search
  • Can be installed on users’ devices (though not as intuitively as with native apps)
  • Can use push notifications (limited to certain browsers & operating systems)

Native Apps

  • More secure
  • Can be used offline
  • Allows use of device features (such as GPS and camera)
  • Gives access to Google Play and Apple’s App Store
  • Easy, one-tap installation
  • Allows full use of push notifications

To sum up, Progressive Web Apps are simpler and cheaper than native apps, while offering an increase in performance over mobile websites. Native apps, however, offer more power across the board, with a better all-round user experience than you can provide with a PWA.

Examples of popular PWAs:

  • Uber,
  • Pinterest,
  • Twitter Lite,
  • Starbucks,
  • Telegram,
  • BMW,
  • Lancome,
  • and many more.

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