Updated: Jan 10
For years, developers and people within the mobile app industry have had a great debate.
Which is better? Mobile web applications or mobile applications?
Here’s our thought on the question. Mobile applications are better. But with that said, now there’s a new trend that utilizes the technology of both mobile web browsing and mobile applications.
This technology is the next big thing in the mobile industry and taking advantage of a progressive web app will improve your overall user experience.
Since this technology is still so new, lots of people have questions about how it works. Some of you may have heard of progressive web apps, but you’re unsure if it’s best for your situation. Here’s what you need to know.
What is a progressive web app?
In short, a PWA brings Design elements along with other technology and features that are typically associated with native apps to a mobile browser. So it feels like an app, but it’s run within a browser.
The reason why this technology is so great is because it allows users who are browsing your mobile website to enjoy an experience as though they were using an app.
The term progressive web app means that it will work for any user, no matter what type of device or platform that they’re using.
PWAs are responsive. So they can fit all forms, such as mobile devices, tablets, or desktops. They work connectivity independent, meaning that the service workers can operate offline or even on networks with a poor quality connection.
Progressive web apps look and feel like native mobile applications.
This includes all of the navigation and interactions as well.
PWAs are also safe to use. That’s because they are provided with HTTPS connections that ensure the content hasn’t been modified or breached.
PWAs are identified as applications. So they are also discoverable because the service worker uses search engines to find them.
Similar to native apps, progressive web apps are also re-engageable, which is great news for you. That’s because you can contact users through methods such as push notifications.
A PWA is installable so that users can keep apps on their home screens. It’s also easy to share progressive web apps because they are linkable. Users can share these with friends by sending a URL.
Since it’s so easy for these apps to get installed on the home screen of whoever is browsing, there’s no need for someone to go to the app store to download anything. They also won’t have to buy anything.
Progressive web apps offer a full screen browsing experience.
Benefits of progressive web apps
Users can discover you through web browsers as opposed to being limited to app store discovery. So you can benefit from a greater reach.
Progressive web apps are fast and easy for users to install. They don’t take up lots of space on devices and don’t use nearly as much data as native apps.
With that said, they still work, look, and feel the same way as a native app from the user’s perspective. Ultimately, this enhances the user experience.
That’s because the navigation of a PWA offers an instant response to commands. There isn’t any lagging or problems scrolling, which users may experience on a traditional mobile website.
The network connection isn’t a concern. As I previously stated, they can work offline and in situations where the connectivity is poor.
In addition to PWAs being able to work on all devices, it also doesn’t matter which operating system the user has. They work on both Apple and Android devices.
Users won’t have to visit the Apple App Store or have an active Google Play account to use your PWA. They don’t need to provide their email address, credit card, or anything else either.
All of this makes things extremely easy for the user because there are no barriers between you and their experience interacting with the PWA.
How Are PWAs Different Than Native Apps?
A native app is a self-contained program that lives on a smartphone. It works like a program you run on your computer, like Microsoft Word or a media playing app.
A PWA is essentially websites that display like mobile apps. They’re more like Google Docs or Netflix, because they can perform the same functions as native programs, but through the internet browser.
But PWAs are different than most websites and native apps. There are a few key differences you need to understand to differentiate between them.
The biggest selling point of PWAs is that they don’t have the restrictions of traditional apps, namely the restricted ability to only work with one platform. This means that PWAs must be as progressive as possible and work on as many platforms as possible.
They should be able to work with any browser that is owned by the user. A PWA can’t really be called a PWA if it is unable to function with some browsers or operating systems.
Progressive enhancement is one of the key factors that set PWAs apart from traditional apps and before you offer your app in that format, you should ensure that it truly can work with every browser type available on the market.
It’s a well-known fact that internet users access the internet from mobile phones, tablets, desktops, laptops, and a variety of other devices.
As a PWA is offered to the public, all these must be taken into consideration. It is foolhardy to assume that everyone that uses your PWA will be doing so from a desktop.
In other words, your PWA must be able to function on mobile, tablets and so on as well as on a full-scale desktop. This type of design–where a website’s design adjusts to meet the requirements of the device being used–is known as responsive design. Responsive design like this is critical to making PWAs progressive and accessible on a variety of devices.
A situation where the user tries to make use of your PWA on mobile and find themselves unable to will be not only frustrating but discouraging as well.
3. Connectivity independent
It’s common knowledge that you can’t visit a website if the internet is down. But most native apps allow you to use them despite limited or no connectivity.
A PWA, while running on an internet browser, allows users to interact with the app independent of the connection.
This is done by caching the app data ahead of time. This caching is made possible by the use of what’s known as a service worker. The service worker offers a programatic way to cache resources. Not every user is blessed with a spectacular internet connection and even if they are, the internet connection won’t always be as strong.
If you are offering a PWA to the public, then it’s imperative that it has the sort of functionality that can operate even when connectivity is low.
Beyond this, your PWA should also be able to work offline. In the past, it would have been an amazing feature for a website to work without a connection, but today, it is no longer a bonus. It’s a requirement.
As much as a PWA goes beyond the limits of a traditional app, it is important to note that they must still maintain an app-like structure.
This is one of the biggest differences between a PWA and a website. Many websites have a few simple pages that contain static pages like contact info, blog articles, and sales pages.
To be considered a PWA, a website needs to include interactive features that engage the user. This page can then be added to the homescreen of a device and users can interact with the app as though it were a native app.
This means that they must still give the functionality of an app. Notification and features should run seamlessly in the background until they are needed by the user.
The functions must be easily accessible for the user and if it is a function that is continuously in use (say, a font-changing app), it should run without any interference.
The functionality of a PWA is central to its value.
No matter what happens in mobile app technology, PWAs will always be the cutting edge. As the web and apps converge, the only safe place to be is with a PWA.
Progressive web apps are the next big thing.
They combine the technology of mobile web browsing with the features and benefits of a native app to improve the user experience.
Progressive web apps increase user engagement and lead to more conversions.
They’re very easy to maintain on your end as well.
So is a PWA right for you? That decision is yours. But regardless of what you decide, you need to recognize that this new technology is very relevant to the future of app development.