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An illustrated example of progressive web apps across devices

What are Progressive Web Apps?

21st March 2019

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are gaining serious traction in the development world.

Hailed by many developers as the future of mobile, PWAs could soon become the norm right across the business spectrum.

What are PWAs?

PWAs are web applications with specialist functionality. Though they share commonalities with both native apps and websites – they’re powered by one code base, load like web pages and don’t rely on intermediaries to download to your device. 

Users can access PWAs without an internet connection and still receive push notifications. As a simple yet effective alternative to native apps, they also boast up to a 10x reduction in mobile development costs.

Why bother? 

PWAs bridge the gap between native and web apps by offering the best of both worlds.

These apps possess similar functionality to native apps however, their performance and efficiency are, for those with lower phone capabilities, often far greater.

From a user’s perspective, PWAs offer a multitude of advantages but - above all - they remove our reliance on intermediaries such as Google Play and the App Store as they're hosted by, and downloadable from, your browser.

As a result - PWAs require little to no storage space in comparison to their native counterparts. Typically, they also rely on fewer cash injections across the lifespan of their development. This is because a single codebase is supported by Android and iOS.

PWAs can be used to create Minimum Viable Products or Proof of Concepts too. For clients with smaller budgets who require an app-like experience or for those wanting to test appetite before investing in a fully-fledged native app, PWAs offer a cheaper alternative.

For bigger organisations they can compliment your current app experience, by widening your funnel relatively inexpensively. PWAs and Native Apps do not have to be at loggerheads. 

Platform wars

It’s easy to see why Apple has been hesitant to support PWAs - the App Store generates a significant part of their overall revenue stream.

When combined with their commitment to privacy and security for users and retaining brand integrity, the limited support is understandable.

That said, the barriers to entry are lower for Android-powered devices (even then the experience delivered may hint at internal conflicts at Google). That said those who work on the platform are open to experimenting and sharing their efforts with the developer community.

This is because Google’s ethos is closely aligned to play and discovery. It makes sense that PWAs are more readily available.

That said, iOS 12.2’s beta will extend support for new browser features that will further improve the PWA experience for Apple’s users.

The next step for Google will be adding PWAs to the Play Store so companies can begin to monetise and centralise their creations while maintaining low development costs. 

Microsoft also recently announced the company will invest in a dedicated PWA store to extend its support of their functionality.

Weighing up

PWAs aren’t for everyone - just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. It’s important to understand the problem creating one aims to solve. 

When the first iPhone was launched, Chrome and Safari’s capabilities were limited i.e. you couldn’t interact with websites without an internet connection. Equally, you couldn’t link a home-screen icon to particular websites and/or receive offline notifications.

PWAs now offer this functionality and so connectivity is no longer a barrier to entry for mobile application users.

Historically, native apps were the obvious choice because native languages such as Java and C++ interact well with hardware and native functionalities but now browsers offer greater support - the ‘best solution’ isn’t always a native app experience.

For those wanting to create/retain sophisticated performance and functionality powered by multiple APIs, the native app is still your best bet.

But if you’d prefer a straightforward app with lower barriers to entry - PWAs are worth exploring.

For more on PWAs and their advantages contact us, we’d be happy to discuss this with you.
Our favourite PWA examples include:

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