Maybe you’ve heard of progressive web apps, but aren’t quite sure what they are, or how to get started.
We’re answering all your questions here…
Are progressive web applications (PWA) “The Next Big Thing” in web and mobile development?
How much do they really affect the end user’s experience?
If you’re feeling out-of-the-loop on what progressive web apps are and what they do, you’re not alone.
Google developers only came up with the idea last year, but it’s already poised to change the way we use the internet.
And, in an ever-changing market, you can’t afford to fall behind the times.
What Are Progressive Web Apps?
If you go to your Android or iPhone app store right now, you can find thousands of native mobile apps primarily designed to supplement an existing website.
You probably have a few banking apps on your phone, Facebook, Amazon, IMDb, etc.
These are all examples of popular websites that developed native mobile apps years later, in order to provide a better experience for their mobile users.
If you choose not to download these apps but still want to use the services on your smartphone, you need to go through a web browser on your mobile device.
Progressive web apps are essentially a hybrid of the two, combining the benefits of both a traditional website AND native mobile app.
With a PWA, recent technical advancements have made it possible for you to install a website directly to your home screen, work offline, and even receive push notifications.
PWA – Part Website
1. Progressive web apps are discoverable in search engines.
Progressive web apps are still websites, so they are searchable and discoverable in search engines.
This is an advantage over native apps, which trail far behind websites in searchability.
It also opens up new avenues for websites to gain traffic and popularity.
2. They can be bookmarked or linked to other places on the web.
Because the app is not native to your mobile device, it has a public URL that can be shared or bookmarked in a browser.
Not only does this improve discoverability, but it gives you the option to share in a way that can’t be done with native mobile apps.
3. Progressive web apps have the functionality of a website.
Native apps are normally restricted to a handful of commonly used features available from a website.
However, because a progressive web app is still a (juiced up) website, full website functionality is easily supported.
PWA – Part Mobile App
1. Progressive web apps fit all screen sizes.
A progressive web app’s UI is designed to scale to the form factor and screen size of your device.
Instead of opening up a website on your browser and pinching your fingers on the screen to read the badly formatted text, or spreading them to zoom in on a tiny button, progressive web apps look like native apps.
As such, all screens of a PWA are equally viewable and usable, regardless of whether your are accessing from a desktop, tablet, or mobile device.
2. Progressive means no page refreshing.
A PWA not only looks like a native mobile app; it acts like one too.
As you continue to use a progressive web app, it caches information on your device.
This means you no longer need to refresh and reload new information every time you navigate away from a page.
Rather, web content and data is stored on your smartphone and can instantly be accessed anytime…even offline.
3. Smoothly animated interfaces that regular websites can’t match.
Another strength of progressive web apps over native apps is smooth animation and performance, even with slow internet connections.
Due to technical innovations, progressive web apps don’t suffer the consequences of a lagging internet connection or a bad data stream.
The PWA is designed to start up quickly, render smoothly, and load seamlessly.
Most importantly, progressive web apps work just as well on old budget phones as they do with the latest top-of-the-line devices.
Called “Progressive” For A Reason
Because a PWA stores information on your mobile device as you use it, the app doesn’t need to access an online server and report back to your phone.
That means when you press the web app icon on your home screen, it loads instantly (just like a native app).
Possibly the best feature of a progressive web app is its offline or low-connectivity capabilities.
AirBerlin, a European budget airline, recently released a progressive web app that allows users instant access to their boarding passes and flight information at a single touch.
There is no need to connect to the internet and log in every time you need to access it, which is an awesome benefit for frequent travelers.
Even better, imagine being able to check your bank account balance from the checkout line, without having to go through a lengthy login and verification process.
You could even check the movie listings you looked at an hour ago, without needing to open your browser again.
Are you starting to see why progressive web applications are indeed poised to be “The Next Big Thing?”
PWA Advantages for Businesses
These days, it’s crucial for your business to provide a smooth, fast, and easy experience for mobile visitors to your website.
Until recently, that typically meant shelling out big bucks to develop native mobile apps and put them in an app store.
But now you can choose the best way to provide a great mobile experience: native Android/iOS app OR progressive web app.
Cut Your Development Costs!
Progressive web apps offer most of the same strengths of a native app, but are typically about HALF THE COST of building native Android and iOS apps.
Filling the role of Android app, iOS app, and mobile website, a PWA simplifies your business requirements, saves money, and makes life a bit more convenient for the user.
In 2015, a popular e-commerce website named Flipkart shut down their mobile site, with a plan to focus on their native mobile app instead.
However, they instead shifted focus to developing a progressive web app that would allow mobile users to easily navigate their store without having to download anything.
In a short amount of time, they saw a 70% increase in visitor-to-customer conversion, and a 40% increase in users who returned back to the site again.
They also noticed a 300% increase in the average time spent on their site, but with a 300% decrease in data usage (a major draw for customers on a budget).
To learn more reasons your business needs a progressive web app, check out this article on our blog.
PWA Advantages for Users
As a business owner, saving money on development cost is obviously a huge benefit, but how does a progressive web app directly benefit your customers?
No Installation Process
With a progressive web app, users bypass the hassle of visiting an app store, searching, downloading, and installing an Android or iPhone app before they can even use your service.
Instead, users visiting your website (PWA) through a browser are presented with the option of adding it to their home screen.
On the first visit to your PWA, users can see a button similar to this:
Not surprisingly, the “Add To Home Screen” feature of progressive web apps increases user engagement in a big way because it makes it easier and more convenient for mobile users to find and revisit your site.
Before the invention of the PWA, users were forced to choose between the extensive features of a web page versus the stability and convenience of a native mobile app.
But now you can deliver users the best of both worlds.
Unlike native apps, progressive web apps are not watered down versions of highly-interactive websites.
This means users who wish to access your services from a phone are no longer forced to use a “lite” version of the site they access on their desktop or laptop computers.
Before starting development on your progressive web app, it’s important to understand technical limitations that exist.
As with any emerging technology, there are still some inherent limitations to the platform.
Being a Google creation, progressive web apps obviously were designed to work perfectly on the Chrome browser.
Mozilla Firefox and Opera browser support is right on the tail of Chrome as well.
Cross-browser support is still somewhat limited with regard to Safari and Microsoft Edge (formerly Internet Explorer).
However, Microsoft Edge is fully on board with Google’s initiative and plans to fully support progressive web applications by the end of 2016.
Being an Apple product, Safari support surely can’t be far behind.
If you wish to convert your website to a progressive web app, it is actually a relatively simple process.
In most cases, existing text content on your site can simply be reformatted and used on your PWA.
Of course, you will need UI screens and a discussion with your developer about the most ideal flow for mobile users.
You will also have the option to add cool new features such as push notifications, offline access, and more.
On the other hand, maybe you just have an amazing idea for a new web app that is not related to an existing site.
Numbers don’t lie.
The future is glaringly bright for progressive web apps, which we believe will soon shake up the mobile development world in an incredible way.
Flipkart, AirBerlin, and other forward-thinking companies have already seen a massive turnaround in their online sales, just from their new PWA development strategies.
More companies are jumping on the bandwagon every day, so don’t let you or your business get left behind in the dust.
Start making your progressive web app today and reap the immediate benefits for years to come.
Deron | co-founder @ BrainyApps