The market for mobile apps is booming. In fact, the demand for apps is so high that the average mobile user engages with their downloaded (‘native’) mobile apps eight times more than they do mobile web.
What Are Progressive Web Apps?
Before Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) were introduced, the two best options for a mobile presence were native apps or a website optimised for mobile use. Unfortunately, neither was all encompassing.
When you need one or the other (but neither is right)
Each option had its strengths. Apps work offline, but websites update content around the clock. Apps send push notifications, but mobile web is indexed in Google. For every reason to select one medium, there was an equally compelling reason to select the other. The most interesting discrepancy, however, pertains to user engagement.
Capturing the Best of Both Worlds
PWAs are the hybrid child of native apps and mobile web, taking all the good and leaving all the bad. They look, feel and function like mobile apps, but they have the access, availability and low barrier-to-entry of websites. Google engineer Alex Russell, the man behind Progressive Web Apps, puts it plainly:
These apps aren’t packaged and deployed through stores, they’re 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 […] on your home screen, and in your notification tray. Users don’t have to make a heavyweight choice [to install] up-front and don’t implicitly sign up for something dangerous just by clicking on a link. Sites that want to send you notifications or be on your home screen have to earn that right over time as you use them more and more. They progressively become “apps”
What it’s not
To understand what a PWA is and why it is so special, you need to get rid of the categorisation that we’re all so used to dealing with. To make things easy, it might actually make more sense to describe what a PWA is not.
It’s not a native app, so it’s not bound by the same structure. You don’t need to get it from the App Store or any other marketplace. You don’t need to download and install it on your mobile device. You don’t have to update it once a month to make sure you’ve got all the current features.
Similarly, it’s not a traditional mobile website. You don’t need a constant internet connection for it to function. You don’t have to navigate the web to find it. You don’t need to sacrifice intuitive mobile controls, like swiping left or right.
Benefits for Users
Compared to native apps, PWAs are in a whole other league. The benefits that they offer users are unmatched by anything else available on the web.
1. Ability to function offline
Even though they are websites, PWAs don’t require an internet connection in order to offer users some measure of functionality. This becomes increasingly true for apps that the user engages frequently.
2. No updates required
Many native apps are redeveloped regularly. As a result, they require the newest hardware and operating systems or else they won’t function. David Merrell, of the Washington Post, says, “The reason it’s called ‘progressive’ is because the experience gets progressively better depending on what technology is available in the device.” That means that modern devices have the best experience, but even ancient mobile devices can have some functionality.
3. No install necessary
PWAs have no barrier to entry. “It lets people interact with it like an app without the hassle of downloading it.”
4. Avoid the App Store
Don’t worry about dealing with app marketplaces anymore. PWAs are as freely available as any other site on the web and don’t require special accounts to get access.
5. Low data requirements
Native apps can monopolise lots of the room on your phone or tablet, forcing you to delete photos and other software or risk running out of space. PWAs use almost nothing and give you a better experience.
6. Simple navigation
You can add home screen buttons for all your favourite PWAs, saving time when you want to use them. Since PWAs are a mobile-only experience, they are also designed with mobile users in mind. That means you get traditional app navigation like swiping left or right.
PWA vs Native, Side by Side
In some regards, Progressive Web Apps and native apps are very similar, but when it comes down to convenience, there’s really no comparison. Here’s how they look side by side.
The PWA takes this one, hands down!