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Are Progressive Web Apps the Future or Just a Fad?

Posted by on Jan 24, 2017

The industry has been talking about progressive web apps (PWAs) for some time now – Google introduced them in 2015, but they’ve taken some time to come mainstream. In case you’re a bit late to the game, PWAs tap into the modern capabilities of the web yet offers a native app-like experience for the user.

Native apps were previously seen by businesses as the golden child of the mobile world as they offered unique experiences that web apps just couldn’t compete with. Most importantly they worked offline and allowed for push notifications – both big selling points for brands but not necessarily deal breakers for the end user. However, as the technology of the web has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last few years, this selling points no longer hold water.

From a user perspective, why would one download an app which takes up precious space on their devices when they could get more or less the same experience on the web? Need to know what the dollar exchange rate is? The weather? Thanks for the quick answers Google! Want to browse an e-commerce site? No problem thanks to the development of responsive web design.

However, by tapping into the technological advances of the modern web which is exactly what progressive web apps do, it’s hard to see the value of developing a native app. The benefits of PWAs for both the company and users are undeniable.

The Advantages of PWAs

No Updates: For users, ensuring that apps are up to date is a pain whereas with PWAs, just like web pages, users get the most updated version every time they visit the site.

Low Friction: Users don’t need to go to app stores, search for the app, download it, wait for it to finish installing and then open it – each of these steps, although simple, will cost you 20% of your users.

High Engagement: PWAs can easily be added to a user’s home screen allowing for instant accessibility. Service Workers offer the ability to send push notifications and can handle caching and content fetching quite easily.

Reliable: Again, Service Workers handle the brunt of things, enabling PWAs to work quickly and smoothly even when the user is offline or has a low-quality network.

Shareable: A positive review from a friend is worth its weight in gold so the fact that PWAs can be shared just like websites (and unlike native apps) via a URL. Building on this, PWAs can easily be bookmarked on a device for quick access without taking up precious space on a device.

Discoverable: Search engines can easily find PWAs because they act as websites. Ever tried getting your native app into the top 50 apps on an app store?

The Disadvantages of PWAs

With all that’s good, comes some bad but is it enough to derail the sudden lunge towards PWAs?

Social Logins: Users have become so used to the simplicity of one-click social logins which aren’t possible with PWAs.

Hardware Technology: PWAs are browser based so if a browser can’t support a technology that your app needs (for example, fingerprint scans), then it’s basically useless.

Discoverability (the other side): App stores get tons of traffic, and while a website can direct traffic to the store for a download, the reverse direction doesn’t work.

The Bottom Line

The real question is, if you’re about to build an app, should you put your time and resources towards a native app or start with a PWA? Like with any decision, there are benefits and drawbacks to both options. But, with the rapid development of web technologies, it seems to us that PWAs are here to stay and they are only going to get better.