Progressive Web Apps - Should You Be Using Them to Enhance Your Mobile Web Experience?

Move over Mayweather and McGregor, in the world of mobile development, there has been an ongoing debate behind the curtain between Native and Web apps. In the history of smartphones, it has been a one-sided encounter, with Native apps declared the champions time and again due to their interactive features that make them "smart" and “fun.” However, there is an exciting challenger in the mobile internet experience forum: Progressive Web Apps. 

A Progressive Web App (PWA) is a website wrapped in a web browser, but without the browser chrome (the borders of a traditional web browser window and not to be confused with the web browser, Chrome). They are modern websites that have many of the key features a Native app has and, once installed, are challenging to differentiate from Native apps in most scenarios.

PWAs take advantage of a new set of APIs that allow web browsers to utilize most of the same features seen in a Native app. Principal elements once only seen in Native apps such as offline mode, push notifications, and home-screen icons are just a few of the attributes mimicked by PWAs. While PWAs will not replace advanced Native apps, like games, they should be viewed as a legitimate option to almost any Native app operating below that threshold.

The Benefits

One of the key benefits of a PWA is that it does not require the use of an app store. We've all seen the "install our app" banners on our favorite mobile website and they’re typically not conducive to a great user experience. In a PWAs case, the entire download process consists of simply adding an icon to your home screen, no app store necessary. 

Since a PWA is an enhanced version of a website, it already uses the languages of the web (HTML, CSS, JS, etc.). When implemented appropriately, this allows companies to provide a very quick and efficient website experience on mobile while also being as searchable and shareable as a traditional website.

The Caveats

While PWAs have helped many brands provide an improved mobile experience, there are a few items to keep in mind when deciding what mobile solution is ideal for your company. 

Thus far, Google has been the main proponent of PWAs, with Google Chrome having the best support for taking advantage of all the features a PWA can provide. Google has even hosted their own PWA Web Summit. Apple, on the other hand, has not shown much support and Safari (Apple’s mobile browser) does not support many of the features of a PWA. So, if you were hoping to stop producing one of your Native apps, Android or Apple, it's probably a little premature at this juncture. 

As I briefly mentioned above in the intro, PWAs are not meant to replace high-end Native apps. This is because a PWA does not have 100% access to all the native capabilities of a mobile device like a Native app would. Remember, a PWA is an enhanced version of a website so highly demanding apps, something like 3D video game or a game with a high frame rate, could be too intense for a mobile browser to handle. With that said, a PWA is ideal for apps that deal with a large amount of content, such as Instagram and Twitter (Twitter already has a PWA setup).

Progressing Forward

Deciding on the right app for your brand is a complex process as both Progressive Web Apps and Native apps can provide excellent solutions for a variety of scenarios. If you are still unsure if a PWA is the best option for your company or if you are curious about what it would take to create your first PWA, check out the excellent informational resources below: 

•    Introduction to PWAs
•    Baseline PWA Checklist
•    Your First PWA Tutorial
•    PWA Examples
•    Lighthouse (An open source, automated tool for improving the quality of web pages)

PWAs are mature enough now that they are worth being noticed and because they use a collection of exciting modern web standards, companies should be considering them for their current web implementation. Ultimately, it’s critically important to understand the needs of your specific app so that you are choosing the ideal method of displaying your brand across all digital expressways to your customers and prospects.


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By Jason Lydon
About the Author:

Jason is an Analytics Developer at Stratigent

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