Are Progressive Web Apps the Future of Mobile?
In late 2015, a new term began to emerge in the web and app developers lexicon. “PWA.” Standing for “Progressive Web App,” this further evolution of familiar technologies is just beginning to gain the recognition it deserves.
For many developers and businesses, choosing to focus on progressive web apps and their development will be the way forward. As of 2017, the potential of everything a PWA can do is just starting to show. Without a doubt, there is more to be discovered and built upon. In the meantime, progressive web apps are offering a more natural way for app idea to manifest and websites to enhance their functionality.
What are Progressive Web Apps?
As the name suggests, progressive web apps are a combination of two things: the best the web can offer and the best features of native apps. Given the cherry-picked nature of these features, it’s only natural that they would be better than the sum of their parts. PWAs are another evolution toward a seamless experience for both web and app users.
Beyond that, all PWAs are expected to have a set of core features to be considered a true “progressive” web app and not just a standard web app or hybrid application. These expectations begin with flexibility but maintain that any truly “progressive” application must still be safe.
Creating a simple format for any user on any platform, be it iOS, Android, or a web browser was the primary motivation behind the development of PWAs. These are meant to enhance the experience of anyone who uses them. They’re also meant to lower any barrier that might prevent any user from trying an application.
How Are PWAs Better Than Traditional Apps?
There are dozens of technical reasons a PWA is better than a native app or even a standard web app. For most, progressive web apps will reign supreme due to these five features:
- Fast Launch and Easy to Share – PWAs are meant to load quickly, no matter what kind of network connection a potential user has. In fact, a PWA will retain as much functionality as it can even if a user is offline. While that may be standard for a native app, it’s a new concept for web-based applications. Beyond that, every one of these applications can be shared by sending a simple link. No need to direct anyone to an app store or specific download page.
- No Manual Updates, Permissions, or Downloading – Above anything else, this makes it easier for people to sample what you’re offering. With no wait time to use your application, there are no barriers. Once they click a link, be it sent to them by a friend, found on their favorite blog, or in the results of their Google search, your PWA will be there, fully functional and ready to impress.
- Shorter Development Times – What if you could develop an app that would work on any platform? What if it could run on a smartphone just as quickly as it could on a PC? What if it even showed up in Google search as-is? That’s how progressive web app development works. It’s easy, takes less time, and results in less upfront cost because of it.
- Platform Independence – As stated above, PWAs are meant to work on any device. The can be found through search, they never require app store registration, and they aren’t loyal to any particular browser or operating system.
- Greater Flexibility and Engagement – Yes, you can still get and send push notifications. Yes, a PWA can still interface with camera or voice features in most cases. Remember, this technology exists to enhance user experience beyond what native apps and websites alone could provide. The few limitations they have now and steadily being overcome.
Will I See More PWAs Soon?
Without a doubt, Progressive Web Apps are making waves. Early successes from big brands are leading the way. Today, you can look at Starbucks, Flipkart, AliExpress, and even Twitter. These businesses are among the first to transition to fully functional progressive web apps. The early results they achieved were stunning. Smaller developers, as well as other major brands, are following suit.
There are few detractors for potential PWA developers. Given how flexible they are and the fact that they are brand independent, progressive web apps come together more quickly than the alternatives. That makes them a smarter choice for most businesses. If you happen to browse the web on mobile, chances are you will soon be coming across PWAs without even realizing what they are.
In the next few years, these types of applications will be everywhere whether the average user realizes it or not. They will be in search results alongside standard websites. They will be in app stores right next to native apps.
Progressive web apps may not work in every situation or for every business, but what they do work for they excel at. That much is undeniable. With as much as they do will it will be unsurprising if, over the next few years, the best performing applications turn out to be progressive web apps.
How Safe Are PWAs?
To be a true progressive web app, the application must be served through HTTPS. That makes it no more dangerous than a standard, trusted webpage. Unlike native apps, users don’t have to agree to share potentially private information or give the app access to potentially sensitive features or data, whether the app requires those elements or not.
In every sense of the word, PWAs are safer. Not only are they filtered through technology that prevents tampering, but they are also always up-to-date. Everyone will have access to the same version. The PWA will be updated automatically for all users whenever they access the application after a new update has been applied.
Aren’t Progressive Web Apps Just Hybrid Apps?
The short answer is, “No.” The easy way to tell a hybrid app from a progressive web app is to see where it’s running. A hybrid app has to be downloaded or found in an app store. Though they may include web functionality and technologies, hybrid apps are still much more “app” than anything else. PWAs, on the other hand, can be linked to and run in a browser. That makes them lighter, more efficient, and platform independent – three things a hybrid app is not.
Further, if you have any experience with hybrid apps, don’t assume that PWAs suffer from the same drawbacks. Where hybrids have failed to bring the same speed and efficiency to games and applications that rely on large amounts of data and animation, progressive web apps aim to level the playing field.
Is There Anything a Progressive Web App Can’t-Do?
Of course. As a combination of web technology and app technology, PWAs are limited to just about the same amount of functionality that these two things are. They just happen to do the same things in a faster, cheaper, all-around better way. The few hurdles that PWAs face today, like the inability to interface with specific device hardware, are likely to disappear soon as more of them are developed.
How are Progressive Web Apps More Effective for Businesses?
In short, PWAs are more effective due to how simple they are. They provide a seamless, barrier-free user experience. That gives app developers a larger pool of potential users and customers. On the flip side, this gives businesses that don’t have an app yet to enhance their web-based experience and add app-like functionality at the same time.
The businesses that have already taken the leap have reported a much higher conversion rate and rate of engagement. In simple terms, that means more people are spending more time on progressive web apps than the alternative native apps and web experiences.
All in all, if your business is looking for a way to enhance user experience and decrease development times, PWAs are an excellent thing for you to look into. You can even build an app-like PWA with easy to use app builders. There are very few devices, outside of wearables, that progressive web apps are incompatible with. If you are looking to expand your customer base, you will be hard-pressed to find a better place to invest your time and resources.
Will PWAs Make Current Native Apps Obsolete?
The technology that makes up all progressive web apps is still being developed. For now, given how many people and businesses are focusing their efforts on that development, it looks like this is where the future is heading. Even if it’s not, progressive web apps can make the lives of many developers, users, and business owners simpler now and in the near, if not foreseeable, future.
That does not mean that native apps are obsolete. Native apps still have a few critical advantages in a few specific areas such as Bluetooth handling and wearable integration. In those areas, native apps may be the way to go for some time. For all other intents and purposes, progressive web apps are proving themselves to be the best options for business investment and user experience.
Andrew Gazdecki is the founder and CEO of Bizness Apps, a company that helps small businesses build mobile solutions to compete with big brands. Their mobile app building platform makes it possible for everyone to create a mobile app for their business. When he isn’t helping small businesses, he is out surfing in the Pacific Ocean.