What is a PWA?
If you know what PWA is and what benefits it adds to the regular website, simply skip the next paragraph. For those who need some introductory info, welcome!
A progressive web application is a website that is both desktop and mobile-friendly. However, it shouldn’t be confused with a responsive app, which looks nice on any screen, be it mobile, desktop, or laptop. PWA is far more than that and is about native app-ish look and feel – working offline, an icon on your home screen, accessing the device’s camera, etc.
Thus, all PWAs are websites, but not all websites are PWAs. Here is the list of the characteristics and functionality that make a website a PWA.
- PWAs boast native-app-like capabilities: navigation, interactions, push notifications, access to the device camera, and user location.
- PWA runs with a poor Internet connection and even offline due to the Service workers, the PWA-specific technology. Surely, when Internet connection is lost only part of the web app functionality stays available and is not available at all if the user hasn’t previously visited the page (as there’s no cash to use to display it). However, this is compensated with modest Net speed requirements, which allows PWA to perform nicely even in 2G areas.
- PWA allows for mobile installation thanks to metadata. A native-app-like icon that displays on the screen adds up to accessibility.
- Fast & furious! Web page load speed highly influences the app’s ability to retain and engage users. Using Service workers for request management, caching, and shell data storage results in faster PWA loading. This also reduces the load on the server with no crashing or slowing down during intense traffic periods.
Now it’s clear what differentiates a PWA from a simple website. Yet, as a PWA is something in between a website and a native application, it should be able to compete with native apps, right? Yeap, and even outperform them at some points!
- Unlike native apps, PWAs work on multiple platforms and browsers, including mobile and desktop OS (see below for details)
- Background synchronization and updates ensure the user always has the latest app version. This is what native apps lack – with PWAs all the latest updates are instantly available for the user (as those are done by the programmers), while native-app users have to install the updates themselves.
- Smaller size and lighter weight. With simple numbers comparison, you’ll easily get the idea. iOS apps consume 38Mb, Android takes 11.5Mb, but PWA makes it technically feasible to be minimized below 1Mb. A smaller size increases the download rate exponentially, requires less storage space on your smartphone or any other gadget, and consumes less traffic.
Time to sum it up.
Progressive web application development addressed several major issues that seriously impeded a regular website operation. Those were sluggish performance, loading that takes forever, and poor interactivity. What’s more, it has gone even further and adopted some native app-like features, such as background synchronization, the icon on the screen, access to the camera, etc.
Great! Why don’t we all go PWA? Not so soon, my friend, and the next paragraph will tell you why.
Is PWA worth considering to boost your digital market presence?
To see if it makes sense for you to build PWA instead of a native app, let’s revise what stands behind the PWA origin.
It's common knowledge that a sweeping majority of mobile users will go for native applications if they were to choose between a native, hybrid, or web app. However, to develop native apps you’ll need two app development teams to cater to both iOS and Android audiences, which incurs substantial costs.
Yet, a nice fact is that mobile users rarely download any new apps! Once the acquisition fever is gone and the user gets accustomed to his/her new phone, they stop installing new things. This means that after you’ve hired two teams to develop two apps, users may even never bother to look them up in the app stores. What a waste of time, effort, and money!
Besides, you may end up simply invisible in the app stores as both Google Play and App Store can regulate app promotion campaigns to showcase their own apps first and yours second (or never). This goes in contrast with fair competition principles and is giving rise to the app developers' concerns worldwide. Moreover, the case has already become a topic for a special ACCC report!
Finally, let’s now see the average mobile vs web users comparison. Mobile users account for over half of the global traffic, according to Statista. This should lead you to the idea that there’s another half of the web users left, that should be reached and converted.
Long story short, let’s face it: there are at least 3 reasons that justify PWA development in 2021.
- You don’t want to overpay for the native apps which users will never see (as they do not download like crazy the way stats reports make us think sometimes).
- You still need the other half of the global web users.
- And surely, you want to overcome that app store barrier, which shows only market giants to the users!
When PWA pays off and when it doesn’t
As you already know, users download few applications but browse a lot on the Internet. Which makes PWA a great choice for your next development project, BUT… There will always be some BUTs you should consider.
First and foremost, iOS is not as welcoming to this development trend as Android, and you can see it clearly from the infographic above. That being said, if your target audience is iOS users (and you should probably know that from your Feasibility or Market study report), stick to the native app development course.
Secondly, PWA still requires some investments. And you really can go without it if yours is not a heavy-content website that requires constant content updates.
So, who’s on the must-go-PWA list?
- News portals
- eCommerce businesses
- Chat apps
In these cases PWA pays off hands down!
Chat apps, by the way, should have gone first, as the first big name that chose in favor of PWA was Twitter (and they never regretted their decision). PWA adoption at the media giant brought some astonishing results, namely a 65% increase in pages per session, a 75% increase in Tweets sent, and a 20% decrease in bounce rate. Impressive isn’t it?
As for the sales, among successful PWA adepts in eCommerce are AliExpress, Jumia, and Alibaba.
Speaking about the publishing industry, this technology is leveraged by Financial Times, Flipboard, Forbes, and Medium.
Let’s quickly run through the PWA main advantages once again to see why giving a try to PWA makes sense in 2021.
- Greater performance and conversion (as a result). The PWA Stats community results show that the conversion rate may rise from 20% to 192%. High loading speed and improved performance allowing for seamless work are huge factors in making users convert to your offers. Thus, you may increase sales, lower client acquisition costs, learn and better understand your target users, beneficially leverage your current website traffic, and improve your brand perception.
- Budget-friendly development, deployment, and maintenance. Progressive web application development provides you with a three-in-one solution: one website that will meet your business needs as a desktop, mobile, and platform-agnostic application. It significantly reduces workload and effort and shrinks the need for specific talents. What’s more, it saves time which otherwise you’d spend creating, deploying, testing, and maintaining different app versions.
- Wider audience outreach and independence from the app stores. You are no longer a slave to the app store requirements and can reach your audience ways easier. One visit to your site - and the icon is displayed on the user’s screen (with their consent, surely).
Last but not least, if your website is already smartphone-adapted, you will turn it into a progressive web application in just a few days (or weeks, depending on the features you’d love to see on your new website). PWA can be compared to Cordova applications, except with Cordova, the browser engine is uploaded as part of the application, while PWA simply runs inside the installed browser. Mostly, PWA is aimed at achieving the best performance/SEO/UX indicators.
So, is it an end to the native app development era? Nope, never meant to say that. Sophisticated functionality will still require deep coding skills in native languages, and sophisticated functionality will never run short of fans. Nevertheless, for a fair share of the market, especially in developing countries with medium to poor Internet coverage, a PWA is and will continue to be the #1 app development option and a true life savior.