Progressive Web Apps: The future of the Mobile Web
In the last year, the conversation has grown around the adoption of Progressive Web Apps (PWA) as more and more browsers begin to extend support.
But what exactly is PWA?
A PWA is not just a revolutionary technology but a general philosophy of building websites that behave like mobile applications and work across all devices. But with an established set of requirements that are testable.
The baseline criteria include that:
- PWAs must run under HTTPS.
- They must include the Web App Manifest.
- They must include a service worker.
The PWA philosophy or guideline is underlined by the following set of attributes that the application/website must fulfill:
- Network independent
- Mobile-app like interaction
The journey began in 2015 when Google Chrome engineer Alex Russel and designer Frances Berriman came up with the term “progressive web apps” to describe this new generation of apps.
These apps take advantage of new features that are supported by modern browsers such as service workers and web app manifests that allow users to upgrade their web apps to a more ‘progressive’ version in their native device and operating system.
After Google’s efforts into promoting PWA for Android, Apple joined in with service worker support for Safari. This meant that PWAs were supported on the two most commonly used mobile ecosystems - Android and iOS.
Fast forward to 2019 and PWAs are everywhere and the darling of the industry. With significant advantages like faster load times, lightweight apps and better audience engagement, PWAs have well and truly arrived.
Who is using PWA?
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, they say. To understand the popularity here’s taking a look at some reputed names are powered by PWA:
- Starbucks (U.S)
- Google Maps
- Twitter Lite
Apple, Microsoft, and Google have already shown their support by putting their money where their mouth is. The other PWA-enabled websites include the likes of Alibaba, Snapdeal, Medium, Flipboard, Trivagao, Forbes, The Weather Channel, Pokedex.org, GitHub Explorer, Offline Wikipedia, and The Financial Times.
It is natural therefore to ask how have these companies benefited from using PWAs?
When Pinterest rebuilt their website as a PWA, core engagements increased by 60%. Time spent on website rose by 40% and they also witnessed a 44% rise in user-generated ad-revenue.
Petlove’s PWA resulted in a 2.8x increase in conversion and a 2.8 increase in time spent on site. Uber’s PWA was designed so that it will load quickly even on 2G networks. So, their core app is only 50k zipped and loads within 3 seconds even on 2G networks.
The Best Western River North Hotel saw a 300% increase in revenue post-PWA.
Clearly, PWAs are getting it right when it comes to engagement, conversions, and revenue. Here are some of its benefits:
Reliability: PWAs redefine the user experience on mobile devices by loading instantly no matter what the network or speed.
Speed: Websites built using PWAs respond quickly to user interactions with buttery smooth effects and no janky scrolling.
Engagement: It functions like a native app on the device. Engage users with push notifications, alerts and no need to use an app store to distribute your ‘app’. All users need is an icon of the home screen on their device and they are set.
Security: All PWAs must be served using a secure origin. This means better security for your users.
Discovery: PWAs bypass the need to use an app store or play store to market your app. All you need is your progressive web app to be online. It is accessible for all devices automatically. Users don’t need to go to the app store and search or install and wait for the download or wait or the app to launch. According to research each of these steps loses 20% of potential users.
Responsive: PWAs are highly responsive and fit automatically to any display size, on any device or browser. Serve them across smartphones, tablets and the smallest of screens without any impact on the experience.
Light as a feather: While PWAs carry all the features of a native app, they are so light that you can weigh them in KBs. For example, the size of the Pinterest app on the play store is 16 MB and 81.7 MB on the App Store. Yet, the PWA version of Pinterest is just 205 KBs.
PWA user experience: One of the best advantages of PWAs is the native app like look and appearance. PWAs are indeed feature-rich and deliver a user experience parallel to their native counterparts.
No version updates: That’s right. There is no need to update the PWA because it is not really a mobile app. Imagine the amount of effort, time and money spent on mobile apps periodically just to keep them fresh and up to date.
Future of PWA
With all PWA advantages and widespread adoption, it is not surprising that tech giants like Google, Apple and Microsoft have gone all out in their support for PWA.
Today nearly all browsers support service workers that enable PWAs. The Microsoft Edge browser based on Chromium also supports PWAs now.
Starting with Chrome 73, PWAs are now supported on all desktop platforms including Linux, Mac, Chrome, and Windows.
Users can launch desktop progressive web apps from the same place as other desktop apps and they run in their own app window without any tabs or address bar. They look and function like other apps on the desktop.
By all accounts, it appears that PWAs are not only the future of web applications but the present. If you are not on board with them yet, now is the time to consider making the switch.