The global mobile population reached a staggering 3.7 billion users in January this year with the devices accounting for almost half of all web page views worldwide. With mobile usage reaching an all-time high, businesses have no choice but to target customers on mobile devices. The question, however, is how they should target them. There has been a long-standing debate as to whether it’s better to develop native apps or responsive websites. Ultimately the aim is to provide an exceptional mobile user experience with no barriers due to device, network status or load speed. This is where progressive web apps (PWAs) have come into their own.
To put it simply, a progressive web app is a mobile app that is delivered through the web. The principal point of difference is that it doesn’t need to be downloaded from an app store. By delivering apps in this way, developers can bring together the best of both worlds and create an enhanced user experience.
Progressive web apps load like regular web pages, but it is the functionality that differs. They act and feel like an app, are able to work offline and deliver push notifications. These features were previously only available to native mobile applications, which makes this emerging technology a definite game changer for customer experience.
Progressive web apps use an app shell that allows them to use app-style gestures and navigations. They are developed using technologies, APIs and specific patterns that allow them to take advantage of both web and native app features. This is done with the help of service workers. Service workers are scripts that browsers run in the background to enable features that can run independently of user interaction. Service workers enable a web app to load instantly, and pre-caching ensures the app stays up to date at all times, delivering the most recent version to its users.
The most recent developments in browsers and service workers have enabled developers to allow users to install web apps to their home screens, receive push notifications and work offline. When browsing a website, users may recognise the telltale ‘add to home screen’ button that effectively installs the app. Once added to the home screen the application can hide the browser controls and appears remarkably like a native app.
To be classified as a progressive web app, developers need to build in the following key characteristics:
Progressive web apps incorporate the best elements of mobile websites and native apps while managing to mitigate their disadvantages. This combination allows them to be more efficient than native apps while still delivering their many unique selling points. There are many benefits of PWAs, the following of which are driving the change towards more predominant usage:
Amongst the many success stories of PWAs to date, the best known is Flipkart Lite. In 2015 the company, India’s largest e-commerce site, rebuilt as a PWA. The result was an incredible 70% increase in conversions. Based on the potential financial gain and the low barrier to entry the benefits of PWAs are indisputable.
As we’ve discussed, recent trends show that people are engaging less with apps. This means that native apps need to be exceptional to succeed. Meanwhile, the lower barrier to entry of PWAs evens the playing field and allows all businesses to adopt a mobile-first approach. Big players such as Google, Apple and Microsoft have supported PWAs in their recent updates and are driving the change towards PWAs as the standard.
Progressive Web Apps’ mobile-first approach to building websites and connecting with customers is paving the way for the future. Smaller businesses that are yet to develop native apps, or even responsive websites, are now in a really strong position. They can skip straight to a PWA as a replacement for a mobile site, while those already invested will need to migrate their presence to the progressive approach.