Today’s Internet isn’t divided into desktop and mobile. Cisco predicts that between 2016 and 2021, mobile web data traffic will increase sevenfold (to 49 exabytes per month). So, following this path, today’s Internet IS mobile. It’s no surprise that if you’re responsible for the growth of your eCommerce, you need to think about going mobile.
When deciding to go mobile, you may come across the term “PWA” – and when researching this topic, you might feel overwhelmed by the wealth of technical information that is around. In the article, I’ll try to avoid technical jargon and focus on the business benefits of PWAs.
What exactly is a PWA?
First, let’s take a look at the definition created by Google:
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are user experiences that have the reach of the web, and are:
- Reliable – Load instantly and never show the downasaur (the dinosaur you see in Chrome, when your Internet connection is down), even in uncertain network conditions.
- Fast – Respond quickly to user interactions with silky smooth animations and no janky scrolling.
- Engaging – Feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.
This new level of quality allows Progressive Web Apps to earn a place on the user’s home screen.
PWA applications save downloaded files and data on the user’s device in a cache. Thanks to this, the data is delivered immediately from the user’s device after next queries no matter how fast is your Internet connection (or even whether you have it). It’s possible thanks to a service worker, which is a kind of gate between our application and the server. When it detects the page or data is already saved in the device’s cache, it delivers the data to the user directly from the cache and, in the meantime, synchronizes it with the server data.
PWA engages as native apps – they are installable, attract users with push notifications and offer an immersive full-screen experience. This last feature is possible thanks to the so-called Web App Manifest – a simple JSON file that tells the browser about your web application and how it should behave when it is ‘installed’ on the user’s mobile device or desktop.
Ok, now you should know what a PWA is, but how does it differ from the standard, native apps?
What is the difference between a PWA and a native app?
Don’t worry, I won’t get too technical – it’s just about the character and usage of these two technologies.
PWAs are written to run inside a web browser
PWAs differ from native apps in that PWAs are not programmed to run only on a specific device. What does it mean for you as a Business Owner or eCommerce Manager? You don’t have to create different apps for different devices – with Android and iOS systems. PWAs also take advantage of native features of the platform on which they were installed.
PWAs are easier to install on your device
You don’t have to go to App Store or Google Play to download the app. It’s all about clicking the “Add to home screen” button when you are browsing the net. Easy as pie – and it brings positive business results! Google research revealed that PWAs are installed 5-6x more often than native apps from banners. More than half of users who choose to install a native app from these banners fail to complete the installation, whereas PWA installation is near-instant. What does it mean for you? Your client will be more likely to install your PWA and use its features, which can lead them to conversion on your website.
Web App install banner (source)
PWAs have a lower barrier to entry
PWAs are an extremely easy way to bring an app to your customers. With this in mind, you can estimate your real savings in terms of the time involved in developing, launching, and marketing an app. Native apps have their own problems when it comes to development and maintenance, especially with regards to the extra time needed to develop and support different platforms, versions, and devices. What’s more, they are not so easy to distribute since publishing to an app store is an ongoing, tedious process.
Another important thing to consider is that you can add the basic features of a PWA to an existing web app – it can take just a couple of days, or even hours, for your app to work faster. As probably you know, it will take a bit longer to develop two additional apps for two different platforms ;)
What are the advantages of PWAs?
- Discoverability – content in Progressive Web Apps can easily be found by search engines. It brings new possibilities for content-centric companies that run native apps. When you use a PWA, your content will be shown in the search engine results.
- Linkability – any page or screen of your app has a direct link that can be shared easily.
- Bookmarkability – you can save that link to access the app directly.
- Fresh and up-to-date – there’s no need to go through the app store approval process to push updates; what’s more, native apps are updated only via a wifi connection – PWAs are always up-to-date
- Data saving – this is especially important if your business is present in markets where internet access is slow or expensive.
- Offline access – customers can visit your eStore and buy products even if they are offline (for example in the metro or elevators).
Using mobile in offline (source: Unsplash)
Native features that PWAs currently lack
The possibilities that PWAs bring sounds wonderful. However, you should remember that there are some features that put native apps ahead of PWAs. For example, access to contacts, calendars, alarms and browser bookmarks. With a PWA, you also can’t use the telephony features such as interception of SMSes or calls, sending of SMS/MMS, getting the user’s phone number (use properly marked up form fields instead, and let the browser’s autofill do the work), reading voicemail, or making phone calls. If you really need these features in your business, you should consider building a native app. Here’s a complete list of features that PWAs can and can’t make use of.
As you can see, a PWA can be a great (for some of you even greater) alternative to mobile native apps. They are discoverable, linkable, bookmarkable, always up-to-date, and you can use them offline. They were designed to run inside a web browser – not on a device – so you can use them not only on devices with Android or iOS, but also on the desktop. PWA installation on the mobile device is extremely easy and they have a lower barrier to entry than native apps. You can easily add a PWA to an existing service, and in addition, don’t have to implement all the features that PWAs offer, only those which are compatible with your business goals. PWAs, however, lack some features that are present in native apps: access to calendar, alarm or telephony features.
So, as you can see, there are pros and cons you should consider when you want to decide whether to build a PWA or native app. Interested in more information?