Today, more than 50% of online traffic comes from mobile devices, so businesses do everything they can to offer frictionless and engaging mobile experiences for their visitors. Companies increasingly choose Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) instead of native apps to capitalize on the capabilities that this type of apps can offer: an immersive user experience that increases engagement and conversion rates.
In this article, we explain what is a PWA and what are its pros and cons so you could determine whether it’s something your business needs right now or not.
What is a Progressive Web App?
Progressive Web App (PWA) is a web application that gives users the experience of a native application, e.g. they can access the app offline, receive push notifications or install the app on desktop or mobile home screen. This is guaranteed by the browser’s service worker, which is the core of every PWA. At the same time, PWAs offer developers much greater control over the application behavior than the classic web application approach.
You can gradually develop your web application into a PWA. For an application to be considered progressive, it must meet the following conditions:
- Security: provides encrypted connection (HTTPS)
- Manifest file: describes the details of the application's appearance, icons, color theme, display mode
- Operability: guarantees at least the basic application operation without Internet access
- Responsiveness: ensures availability of content on any device type
- Speed: works fast even on mobile bandwidth
Who uses PWAs?
Currently, PWA is a hot topic at conferences around the world, and there’s no doubt that just like responsive websites used to redesign the web, Progressive Web Apps are likely to disrupt web development in the near future.
The biggest players such as Google and Microsoft are already using PWA to bridge the gap between native and web applications. Apple has joined them too, although they aren’t as enthusiastic about the technology.
Nonetheless, the technology is maturing and is being more increasingly used in real-life products. The support of technology giants has led many large companies to implement PWA. Take a look below at some companies that invested in PWA and how it affected their business:
- AliExpress - increased the conversion rate for new users by 104%
- Twitter - increased engagement and reduced data consumption by 70%
- OLX - increased engagement by 250%
- Alibaba - increases conversions on the mobile web by 76%
There are a lot more examples at pwastats.
PWA vs. native app - a comparison
Let’s take a quick look at the key differences between the two application types.
What do these differences mean from the business perspective? Let’s take a closer look at the advantages of PWAs.
The benefits of PWA
Without a doubt, PWAs can positively impact online presence for most businesses by increasing traffic and conversion rates. Let’s take a look at the reasons why:
It’s more user-friendly than a native app
PWAs typically work faster than native apps and can work offline as well. Users can access a PWA very easily, directly from the browser. It’s a very important feature that offers users additional convenience to users who no longer download apps. There is an option to install a PWA like a native app, but it’s not required. If a user opts for installation, it’s done much faster than in the case of native apps. The optional installation also means that it’s much easier to share a PWA - it’s enough to just send the URL.
Lower development and maintenance costs
PWA is cross-platform, which means that it can run on multiple devices, with different operating systems using the same codebase. Thanks to this, it’s enough to write the code and content just once and it will run on any platform. This significantly reduces the time and cost of creating a multiplatform application and makes it easier to maintain it in the future. The fact that PWA is cross-platform also means that less time and fewer resources are required to build it, so, unless you’re building a robust app, you will be able to deploy it faster.
Search Engine Indexation
In essence, PWA is also a website, so its content is indexed by Google and counts towards SEO. It means that your app is more likely to be discovered via a web browser. Using Google’s tools, you can test how your PWA performs in the search results. Bear in mind that apart from content, Google will look at other factors, such as security and app loading time.
Independence from Application Stores
This may be considered a disadvantage, but on the positive side, owners are not required to gain approval from app stores for new app versions. It is possible to place the application in the Play Store (TWA). Rumor has it, that App Store will start accepting PWAs in the near future as well.
PWAs are typically smaller and use less bandwidth. They cache and serve content like websites, which significantly improves their speed and overall performance.
With PWAs, updates happen silently and automatically in the background thanks to the service worker. No maintenance is required and users always work on an up-to-date version.
PWAs run under HTTPS, so they will be more secure by default. Exchanges between the client and the server won’t be tampered with, so customers can e.g. enter their personal information more securely.
The disadvantages of PWA
PWA is a relatively new concept, so it isn’t perfect. There are some downsides to this application development approach:
Limited iOS support
Quite a big problem is the limited support on Apple devices, where access to many functions is difficult (e.g. push notifications). For that reason, many developers may reject PWA when choosing a technology stack for an app built predominantly for iOS users.
No access to low-level API
PWA doesn’t offer access to the low-level API of the device. Nonetheless, we can still use many important functions such as geolocation, device orientation, motion, camera, microphone, vibration, or VR. Limited access to important functions and forced encrypted protocol actually increase application security: fewer permissions mean less damage can be done by potential malware.
Faster battery drain
Since a PWA runs from a browser, it will consume more battery power and can be prone to latency. If low energy drain is your goal, a PWA won’t be the best choice.
When to choose PWA?
Progressive Web App is a great option when you want to build a cross-platform solution to offer the users more convenience and thus boost your company’s online presence and conversion rates.
If you’re about to make the decision regarding PWA vs a native app, consider the specific functionalities you require. If you don’t need any PWA-problematic functionalities, such as push notifications or access to specific API elements of the device, PWA will be more convenient for the user. It will also be cheaper and faster to create and maintain. Bear in mind though, that PWA in itself will not guarantee success, but can be used to improve your online presence and engage your audience.