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Progressive Web Apps - The Best of Both Worlds

Written by: Jo Jackson

05 October 2018

Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps - The Best of Both Worlds

Written by: Jo Jackson

05 October 2018


For the last seven years or so, we’ve been experiencing a kind of mobile app arms race. Every company wants one, and every developer wants to be the one to come up with the next multi-million dollar app concept. But what exactly is an app anyway?

The word “app” (short for “software application”) doesn’t refer to the kind of stock standard software program many of us have known for years, such as Microsoft Word. “An app typically refers to software used on a smartphone or mobile device such as the Android, iPhone, BlackBerry or iPad” and generally requires the user to be online. Apps can perform very narrow and specific tasks, such as adding filters to your photos, or providing you with your daily horoscope, but others are very broad and perform a large amount of tasks, for example, the Facebook app, which entirely recreates and reinvents its desktop experience for mobile.

There seems to be a surge of urgency around app development, with companies rushing to make their very own available on the App Store or Google Play. The reasons behind this are multiple. We are an increasingly impatient species and it’s common understanding now that people need access to information and services quickly. In the face of unpredictable network service and slow loading times, companies want to streamline their services into apps that respond swiftly. There’s even been significant progress in developing offline features so that people can still enjoy certain mobile app services without a WiFi connection. 

There’s also great appeal for companies in having their app installed on someone’s mobile device - it’s almost like planting a little flag in new territory. Through their app they become a permanent feature in someone’s digital landscape. The app is a constant reminder of the company’s existence, right there in their new user’s pocket - especially because apps allow push notifications, which ensure that the user doesn’t forget it’s there.

What many people don’t realise is that all of this is possible without developing a mobile app. Similar results can be achieved through a Progressive Web App (PWA). “In its simplest sense, a Progressive Web App is a mobile app delivered through the web.” It uses modern web capabilities to deliver an app-like user experience. PWAs evolve from pages in browser tabs to immersive, top-level apps, leveraging the web's low friction.

Here are x reasons why a Progressive Web App is worth considering as an alternative to an app installed on your device:

1) PWAs don’t entirely depend on network.

As Google explains, the configuration of Progressive Web Apps enables them to “load instantly, regardless of the network state.” This is achieved “by pre-caching key resources”, which helps create a smooth and seamless user experience.

2) PWAs are fast.

By being semi-independent from the network, their loading time is greatly reduced. This can eliminate the 53% loss of users that abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

3) PWAs save the user valuable memory space.

Buying or simply downloading a free native app off the App Store requires significant buy-in from the user. Beyond the possible cost, they have to commit a slice of their limited storage space on their mobile device to the app. A Progressive Web App, on the other hand, doesn’t require the user to sacrifice space on their device, as it’s entirely hosted on the web. This minimal need for consideration and commitment might go some way toward explaining why PWAs tend to be trusted more easily.

4) PWAs can be saved to your mobile device’s home screen. 

Even though Progressive Web Apps “live” on the web, a shortcut can conveniently be saved to your mobile device’s home screen. When you tap its icon, rather than launch a native app that’s been downloaded onto your device, it opens an app-like website. While the backend is different, the overall experience for the user remains the same (minus the hassle of an initial installation).

5) PWAs are always up-to-date.

By their very nature, Progressive Web Apps centralise control. As they are hosted on the web, they do not require re-installs for an update to happen. This ensures that users interact with the most recent and optimized version at all times.

6) PWAs don’t care what device you’re using.

The world of native apps is heavily segmented between Apple and Android devices. Progressive Web Apps create an identical experience for all, regardless of the device. This also means they can be designed without the strict size limitations of an Android Package Kit (APK), for example.

7) PWAs are easily discoverable on search engines.

As traffic increases on your site, your Progressive Web App will automatically climb higher in search engine rankings in a positive upward cycle.

8) PWAs are economical.

Simply put, Progressive Web Apps are faster to build and update than native apps, and their inherently flexible nature only adds to the attraction.

A fantastic example of a Progressive Web App in action is Twitter Lite, “a faster, data-friendly” version of Twitter’s native app. Twitter Lite loads in under 3 seconds for repeat visits - even on slow networks - and weighs in at under 1MB. As a result of this and other data-saving features, the PWA has seen a 65% increase in pages per session, 75% in Tweets, and a 20% decrease in bounce rate.

Similarly impressive statistics have been reported by Forbes. After redesigning their mobile experience as a PWA, they’ve noted a 43% increase in sessions per user, 100% more engagement, and their average user session has doubled in length.

AliExpress has always been on the forefront of mobile commerce, and based on the growth they see in this area, they quickly developed their own PWA. With a reported 104% increase in conversion rates for new users gained through their Progressive Web App, compared to their traditional website and mobile app, things are looking great for the Chinese company.

Consider, for a moment, the following fact: The average individual uses four times less mobile apps than websites, but spends 80% more time on an application than on a website. Given this and the stunning results of what Progressive Web Apps have done for big media and commerce, Progressive Web Apps may very well have found the magical balancing point between native mobile apps and websites, by giving us the best of both worlds.