Back in October 2016, we wrote a blog post discussing the pros and cons of mobile apps, especially when comparing them to mobile websites. But when discussing the advantages we ignored a new player on the scene. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) combine the best of web apps and native apps into a new, wonderful, magical, internet experience.
No installation needed. Since Progressive Web Apps are just web pages, users don’t have to install them, they can just start using. This is great for people who have limited phone storage.
However, they can be stored on a user’s device home screen for quick navigation.
You only need to make one app, not three or four versions for different operating systems. They are just web apps with a few extras, so unlike native apps, you don’t need to use different deployment strategies based on the user’s device.
They are linkable and shareable. Since they are web apps users can easily share them using a link on social media, and they are also discoverable through search engines.
No updates needed. Since PWAs are just web pages (like the Financial Times PWA below), they update in the same way as a web page being refreshed. Using a PWA gets you the latest version.
Safari is not supported. Whilst newer versions of Chrome, Opera, and Samsung’s Android browser support Progressive Web Apps, Internet Explorer, Edge, and Safari browsers do not.
This means that all the extra functionality you get from a PWA is lost when you visit it through Safari; it still works as a basic web app, but you don’t get all the add-ons. Safari alone has close to 50% of the mobile browser market so PWAs are still not a reality for most mobile browsers.
There is no central download store. People tend to mistrust things that just pop up on their web browser, resulting in legitimacy concerns over web apps. Also, the lack of central download store means people can be unaware that there is a PWA available at all, meaning they can be harder to find.
Whats the difference between a PWA and a hybrid app?
A hybrid app is a native app which is built using web technologies (HTML/CSS) but is distributed via a native app store.
When you build a hybrid app, you still have to wrap it up in Apple/Google Play/Windows software, submit it to their stores and wait for it to be approved.
A PWA is just a web app with added extras that allow it to access features that were previously restricted to native apps.
Apple is notoriously difficult for getting apps approved, it can often take a long time if it gets approved at all, which is something to bear in mind when thinking about whether to go for a hybrid app or a PWA.
At the moment the lack of compatibility could be a problem for certain apps but as these issues are resolved, progressive web apps will probably become more universal. If you want to check out a fun PWA, go to www.progressivewebflap.com but remember to use Chrome or another supported browser.
Also, fun fact, as of February of this year, Twitter moved all of its web traffic to Twitter Lite, a PWA.