What is a Progressive Web App (PWA)?

The problems with traditional websites which PWAs solve

  • They are extremely inefficient, reloading a lot of data which doesn’t really need to be reloaded, such as the header and footer. This inefficiency results in two things; a poor user experience whilst a user waits around and mobile data wasted.
  • You need an internet connection. For eCommerce sites, this could mean the difference between a sale and the user delaying their browsing then forgetting.
  • The user experience isn’t as good as native applications. Normal websites don’t load full screen and users generally manually navigate to the site through the web browser. This means that the site isn’t as accessible as an icon on their mobile home screen.

How PWAs solve these problems

  • They use caching and queuing to provide offline functionality. This may be limited, but definitely not as limited as not being able to visit the site at all! In the context of eCommerce, it might mean that you can view products, add them to your wish list to purchase later. You wouldn’t be able to actually place an order, though, as this would likely require an internet connection to process the payment.
  • They are able to load full screen – just like native applications.
  • They invite the users to add the site to their phone home screen as a shortcut. It will then appear as though it is a downloaded application, so is easily accessed.
  • They reload only the data that is necessary. For example, clicking a new category on an eCommerce site will load the new products, but it won’t reload the header and footer (unless necessary!)

Why try to replace native mobile apps with PWAs?

  • Mobile apps require mobile app developers and good ones are expensive and difficult to find. If you are an agency and you have a team of web developers, it makes sense to be able to make use of resources you already have available to you.
  • Users generally don’t always take the time to navigate to the app store and download native apps. Also, they can be quite heavyweight and require a large initial download.
  • There is a cost to maintaining or at least testing multiple versions of applications for android and iOS.

So, are PWAs a replacement for native applications?

At some point in the future, it is quite likely. But for the time being, no. Put simply, they just don’t have the support from everyone in the industry to be the new standard for mobile applications. Google fully embraces PWAs, Apple however, does not – likely favouring people continuing to use their app store.

About the author

Team C3