A Progressive Web App (PWA) is a new approach to delivering an interactive web experience on a mobile device. The concept has been around for a short while now, but it is starting to see enough support to take off, so it’s time to pay attention as a business owner.
Let’s take a quick look at what exactly a Progressive Web App is, what it can do for your business and how it varies from traditional native apps.
What is a Progressive Web App?
In the most simple of terms, a PWA is a website that behaves more like an app the more you interact with it.
A PWA can do things such as:
- Install an icon on a person’s phone, like an app, and be launched from the icon
- Let people use features of your website while they are offline
- Use mobile-specific features such as push notifications
In short, a PWA is a sort of hybrid between a website and an app, trying to take the benefits of both ecosystems and merge them together.
PWAs won’t necessarily be replacing native apps any time soon, if ever. Native apps make great sense for deep feature sets that rely heavily on native phone features and processing power. However, PWAs will help bring more affordable and flexible options to businesses that want to offer their customers interactive features through their websites via mobile devices.
A good real-life example of a PWA is the Twitter progressive web app. If you have the Chrome browser installed on your mobile phone, visit https://mobile.twitter.com/ to see how the experience works.
One thing I really like about the idea of PWAs is how the concept affects loading speeds for users. Loading speeds on the web can be a major negative for users because they have to wait for the pages to load from a web server that could be anywhere on the planet.
A PWA can have a major positive effect on loading speeds because it can cache important parts of the web app to the user’s device, enabling it to load instantly when the user views it again. The end result is an experience that feels a lot more snappy than a traditional website experience.
App Store vs URL
One item I see as a major differentiator between native apps and PWAs is how they are delivered to the user. A native app requires users to visit an app store and download an app to their device before they can use it at all. On the flipside, a PWA starts out as a website that is found by visiting a URL, like any other website, which users can utilize right away.
In the PWA process, once the user starts to interact heavily with the website, they are asked to save the app on the phone as an icon, so it is easy to revisit. If the user keeps using the interactive features of the PWA after installing the icon, the website will then start to feel more like an offline app the more it is used.
This means the PWA can be discovered via traditional web searching and users can link other users to web apps using URLs rather than having to send people to the app store to download and install an app. In this way, PWAs can be viewed as more discoverable because they follow the traditional web use model.
Websites that encourage users to install a native app might be able to look at offering the native app features as a PWA instead, if the features are usable and work as a PWA because this is quite a different experience in terms of introducing the users to a new app.
Since progressive web apps are a new technology, they do not have full support from all major browsers yet. Currently Chrome, Firefox and Opera web browsers are leading the way with support for the service worker features that make PWAs possible.
Microsoft will be supporting PWAs with their Edge browser, and they have plans to allow PWAs to be listed in their app store. Some of Microsoft’s plans for PWAs and Windows are discussed at Windows Central.
Apple does not yet support PWAs, but has signalled they might adopt the concepts needed to be make PWAs possible in their five-year plan.
The thing to know about PWAs and browser support is this – if you convert your website to a PWA, the new features will work for users that have browsers that support PWAs. Users that don’t have browsers that support PWAs will still be able to use your website just fine – it will work as a typical website for those users and not as a PWA.
This makes it worthwhile to experiment with PWAs because you can still serve your typical website visitors but also offer more features and better ease-of-use to those who can use PWAs on their mobile device.
The Technical Side
The term Progressive Web App really is more of a description of a collection of technologies rather than a single technology itself.
These technologies include concepts like:
- Service workers – scripts that are triggered by events, which in turn handle things like caching, push notifications and fetching content
- App manifests – tell a browser that a website is a PWA and it can be installed to the mobile phone as an icon
For developers new to PWAs, the best thing to look at is probably Google’s pages on PWAs. They have pulled together some really good resources showing how to convert websites to PWAs and how the concept works in general.
PWA was a brand new concept a couple years ago, and it is now starting to see some better browser support from some big players. It looks like the concept is taking hold, but it will require adoption from all major browsers to really see it take off.
Right now, due to the progressive nature of PWAs, I think any company that wants to experiment with the idea should feel confident in doing so. By implementing your website as a PWA, you will be able to offer forward thinking, interactive features that feel like native app features to your users who can utilize them.
Technically, the basic implementation of a website as PWA isn’t that crazy. The bigger decisions for organizations will be determining what features to offer via their PWA and the time it might take to implement those specific features vs. the benefits.
If you are interested in the concept of Progressive Web Apps, give us a call at 701-478-1111 and ask to speak with a marketing advisor or visit absolutemg.com/contact.