Developing mobile apps has become a juggernaut of a business over the past two decades as mobile devices have come to completely dominate the market and command the lion’s share of our attention. In this endeavor, for many years, native mobile apps have been the way to go, with no alternatives on the horizon. At least, not until the rise of Progressive Web Apps (PWA).
This innovative technology marks a return to simplicity and lightweight operations. It is a breath of fresh air for the industry! And it’s growing fast. Emergen Research estimates that the market for Progressive Web Apps will reach $10.4bn in the next 5-6 years which just illustrates how this is taking off.
In this article, we’re going to delve into what PWAs are and why they are beneficial. We will also try to tell whether they might just be the right alternative to a native app for your organization.
Table of contents:
What is a Progressive Web App (PWA)?
In our mobile-first world, consumers have gotten very used to using native apps. They are built for purpose and fit the intricacies of the form factor perfectly. Progressive Web Apps are web apps that aim to mimic native mobile app functionality. They do it by offering a user experience that closely resembles a native implementation while remaining web-based.
As Alex Russell, Senior Staff Software Engineer at Google who has coined the term “progressive web app” together with Frances Berriman back in 2015, pointed out in his text “Progressive Web Apps: Escaping Tabs Without Losing Our Soul,” published on Infrequently.org in July 2015:
[These apps] are just websites that took all the right vitamins. They keep the web’s ask-when-you-need-it permission model and add in new capabilities like being top-level in your task switcher, on your home screen, and in your notification tray. Users don’t have to make a heavyweight choice up-front and don’t implicitly sign up for something dangerous just by clicking on a link.Alex Russel, Senior Staff Software Engineer at Google
Who uses PWAs?
These apps make use of a wide range of different web technologies such as React, Polymer, Angular, Ionic, and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to accomplish this. When done right, they can perform exceptionally well compared to their native counterparts. In fact, some of the largest and most important internet companies in the world make use of Progressive Web Apps to deliver their service:
Pinterest reduced the storage requirements from 143.1MB to just 1.4MB by introducing Pinterest Lite, a PWA alternative to their native mobile app.
By bringing the native experience in a super-lightweight web app, Uber has enabled quick ride requests regardless of location, network speed, and device. The core app of only 50kB allows it to perform page load within 3 seconds on 2G networks.
Twitter accomplished a similar feat that enabled instant loading, much lower data consumption, and increased user engagement for mobile users who weren’t using the app itself.
When introducing the MVP of their progressive web app (PWA), the developers delivered the core Tinder experience in 10% of the data investment costs. Moreover, they’ve managed to improve user experience (measured with swiping, messaging, and session length). According to Addy Osmani, a Google engineering manager with the PWA, Tinder users:
- swipe more on web apps than their native apps;
- message more on web apps than their native apps;
- purchase on par with native apps;
- edit profiles more on web apps than on their native apps;
- and their session times are longer on web apps than their native apps.
Spotify has created an entire app interface experience that lives in the browser and offers users all the functionality without having to install anything. It looks like an app but, in fact, it’s just a web page. For the uninitiated, you might not even be able to tell the difference.
These are just a few examples of what can be accomplished with a PWA and why you should be taking it seriously as an alternative to a native app.
Progressive Web Apps’ advantages and disadvantages
PWAs come with their quirks, and they may not be perfect for every use case, but where they are suited – they can act as a really powerful form factor. Both from the users’ and web developers’ perspectives. Let’s look at PWAs’ advantages and disadvantages.
Benefits of PWA for developers
It may seem a little obvious, but no matter what you build – a native app or PWA, you need good web app development services to do it right. And as we all know, finding the right developers is not always easy. Or… is it? The thing is, gathering a team to work on your PWA is actually easier than in the case of native apps. It also takes less time to build PWA, which means you’ll be ready to kick-off your project much earlier than if you’d decide to work on a native app. Let’s dig deeper into that.
Shorter development time
One of the biggest benefits of Progressive Web Apps is that they can be developed in much shorter time frames than typical native apps. Instead of waiting 6-12 months for an application to be developed, you can build a world-class PWA within several weeks (depending on its complexity). In addition, they are also faster to update and maintain, which is a huge benefit as iteration speed is crucial in today’s world.
Works on desktop and mobile devices
If you’ve ever tried to develop a platform for multiple apps, you’ll understand how it can very quickly become a challenge. Every different operating system has its own way of doing things. That said, you actually need to have different web developers with different backgrounds to develop across iOS and Android simultaneously.
Read also: All you need to know about PWA on iOS
With a PWA, you can concentrate your resources on just one build because you only have one thing to maintain. As such, your resources and personnel are not split between different versions of your application. A PWA works the same across desktop devices as it does across mobile devices.
Benefits of PWA for end-users
Ok, the benefits on the development side are important, but what you’re probably wondering about right now is whether your clients will be happy with your PWA – after all, you’re building it for them. So, how is PWA beneficial for end-users? We’re pretty sure you’ll be happy to hear that the list of advantages is quite long.
Requires very little storage space
Progressive Web Apps tend to be smaller in size, so they load faster, place less strain on a user’s hard drive, and require less memory to run. This is because they are built in a way that caches data in the background while you interact with a site, rather than doing it upfront. This is especially useful if your target audience is sensitive to hard drive constraints. PWAs can offer a wonderful lightweight alternative to having to download yet another app onto your phone.
Works offline equally well as native apps
A PWA can load without an active network connection thanks to cached data that is stored in the browser. This means that users who aren’t online can still interact with your application in certain ways. You don’t have to worry that it will perform worse than a native app. It can work offline and users won’t tell the difference. And the fact that you can add the progressive web app to a smartphone’s home menu these days, means that it can feel exactly like a traditional mobile application from a user experience perspective.
No downloads required
Users do not need to go to an app store of any kind to access your application. Instead, they can download your PWA directly from your site, and it can appear on their phone as a widget immediately. By reducing this friction, it makes it that much easier for users to try your app. It can show up in search results, and there is no installation or anything; it just works.
With that being said, one of the most common myths around PWA is that it can’t be added to the App Store. It is not true. Some PWAs have begun being listed in app stores as of 2020, so that they can compete with native apps and access the users who still discover apps through the relevant marketplaces. Example? Here you go: at Neoteric, we have recently put our Example PWA on the Apple App Store.
To sum it app: users are able to access PWA apps through app stores or directly from your site. Essentially, you can get the best of both worlds when it comes to distribution.
Some people say it’s not possible. We said: let’s check!
Benefits of PWA for business
Last but not least – what are the PWA’s benefits for you and your business? There’s plenty of them as well! In parallel with making your end-users happy (which is actually a big benefit for your business), it can also save you money and ease scaling your business. Sounds good, right? Let’s then take a closer at it.
Increasingly popular solution
As the PWA community continues to gather momentum, we are seeing popular platforms embrace them more and more, which points to a bright future for the technology. It is already a standard for Android and Apple to assign more and more RAM to PWAs on their devices. Therefore, it’s safe to say that many of the current limitations will be resolved in the future as we see them become mainstream. The space is very dynamic, and it bodes well for what is yet to come.
The versatility and feature set that is enabled by PWAs, along with the lower resource constraints, means that it is a great solution for any industry regardless of context. If a company is looking to create a complex, interactive platform that is accessible to most users – you won’t go wrong with a PWA.
Building on the two points above, developing a PWA is much cheaper than a native app. That’s because you aren’t splitting your resources across different teams. Instead, you can focus all your energy in one place and leverage that spending as efficiently as possible. Additionally, web development skills are more readily available in the marketplace. You can also achieve similar levels of interaction and navigation but with significantly lower upfront investment.
Now, how about the potential downsides of this solution? Let’s discuss them below.
Disadvantages of PWAs:
Functions limited to the browser being used
Even though PWAs do feel like native mobile apps, they are still dependent on the functions available in whatever browser the users are using. For example, depending on the device and browser of choice, some features such as biometric identification may not be possible. Whereas a native app would give you more capabilities in that respect.
iOS is still behind Android
When it comes to Progressive Web Apps, Apple still lags behind Android in terms of compatibility and user behavior. They seem to be paying more and more attention to the trend, but for now, you should be aware of this difference, especially if you are mostly targeting users on iOS devices.
Progressive web applications require more battery power
As the PWA runs in the browser environment (just like a web page), your phone will require more power to run the app effectively than it would in the case of a native app.
When should I use PWA?
Now, when you know the benefits of Progressive Web Apps, you should consider your situation and needs to determine whether it’s a good option for you. We’ll give you a hint: it is, if one or more of the following is true:
- You’ve just started your company and you want a simple, no-fuss app for your users to get started right away. PWAs require no downloading of any kind and you can still interact with users via push notifications if you need to.
- You have time or budget constraints that curtail your ability to build a fully-fledged native application. PWAs take less time to develop and publish, making them a great place to start. You can always add a native app down the line if you think it’s needed.
- You want to improve brand awareness and SEO. Because of the flexibility of the form factor and the fact that PWAs are much more accessible – you can reach a much wider audience organically than you can with a native app. In addition, as it is being distributed directly through your page and URL, you can build powerful brand recognition as you go to market.
- You want interaction capabilities that emulate a native app. Today’s PWAs combine the best features of native apps and are not easily distinguished from them. Having a PWA, you can easily get all the functionalities of native apps. This includes adding the app to a home screen, push notifications, and the like – so your users might not even know the difference. A Progressive Web App is just like a native app.
You may also want to read a bit about single-page application and multiple-page application.
Summary of PWA and its benefits
In conclusion, it’s clear that Progressive Web Apps’ benefits make them a really great alternative to building a mobile native app. PWAs are cheaper and quicker to develop, require fewer resources to maintain them, and they are almost indistinguishable from their native counterparts, and offer a great user experience. All in all, they present a lot of powerful benefits, and those few weaknesses are likely to be resolved in due course as the technology becomes more popular.
If you’re looking to develop an app, be sure to do your research beforehand to make an educated choice. If you’d like to further explore Progressive Web Apps advantages and possibilities, and determine whether PWAs are a good direction for your project, reach out! We’d love to discuss your needs and advise you on the best solution.
See if it’s the right choice for your business and kick-off the development