All you need to know about PWA: technology overview, capabilities, and limitations
1 Feb 2024
You may be familiar with the problem: you access a website on your smartphone and notice that the website is not optimized for mobile devices. The font is too small, the scrolling doesn’t work properly, and the content loads halfway only.
A solution for situations where the website cannot be easily adapted to the appropriate device using traditional responsive web design is progressive web apps, PWA in short.
But can progressive web apps seriously compete with traditional web apps? And what is so progressive about these apps, what differentiates them? We give you an overview of how PWA technologies work and explain the differences to other app formats.
What is PWA?
Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are apps that are accessed via the browser on a mobile device. Progressive web apps have all the benefits of native apps — but they don’t require installation and are easier to create and visit.
What is PWA technology? It is an advanced web development approach that combines traditional websites’ best features and native mobile applications. PWAs leverage modern web capabilities to provide users with a reliable, fast, and engaging experience across various devices, regardless of network conditions.
Key PWA capabilities include offline functionality, responsive design, and the ability to be installed on a user’s device, blurring the lines between web and native app experiences.
The inception of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) in the early 2010s marked a captivating chapter in web development. The idea of web apps replicating the functionalities of native mobile apps emerged, gaining momentum when Google introduced groundbreaking features like Service Workers and the ability to add apps to the device’s home screen in 2015. Service Workers empowered PWAs to function offline, enhancing overall performance, while the option to add to the home screen allowed users to install web apps seamlessly on their mobile devices.
As the PWA concept gained traction, it transcended Google’s ecosystem, finding support in browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari, fostering widespread adoption. Today, PWAs are a pivotal tool in the developer’s arsenal, creating high-performance web applications accessible across diverse platforms and devices. Key benefits of PWA include:
- Offline access for uninterrupted use.
- Fast loading and responsiveness for an optimal user experience.
- Install on the home screen like regular mobile apps.
- Automatic updates to ensure up-to-date content and functionality.
- Secure data transmission through HTTPS.
These features make PWAs convenient for developers, as they can create a single application that works across multiple platforms and devices. Users, in turn, gain a convenient and accessible way to interact with content and services on the Internet.
PWA vs. Native and Hybrid apps – how they differ
Anyone who develops an app or wants to have it developed will soon come across terms such as native, hybrid, or PWA. Let’s look at each in detail.
1. Unlike PWAs, native apps are developed in the programming language on which the respective platform is built, for example, Objective-C (and Swift) for iOS and Java (and Kotlin) for Android.
The big advantage of native apps is performance. The hardware of the mobile device can be accessed directly. So, if an app relies heavily on functions such as camera, Bluetooth, or GPS, it might make sense to develop an app natively. In addition, graphics-intensive games are usually developed natively, as the device’s computing power can be better utilized.
Publishing in the App Store is also possible, like a native app. However, the app’s file size is slightly larger in comparison, and the use of native functions is somewhat more limited.
A PWA can be considered a responsive web application that looks like a native app. The application can use native functions of the device, such as camera and microphone, GPS location, or push notifications, and include them in the program. The application checks both the browser and device used for compatibility. A PWA’s «look and feel» on a smartphone and tablet resembles a native mobile app (smooth operation, good response times for swiping movements, etc.).
Below, you can compare PWAs, native and hybrid apps, depending on performance, development cost, platform support, and access to device features.
|Progressive Web App (PWA)
|Performance and User Experience
|PWAs provide a native-like experience in the web environment, offering good performance.
|Native apps generally offer the best performance, but only optimized for specific platforms.
|Hybrid apps aim to balance performance, leveraging web technologies within a native shell.
|Development Cost and Time-to-Market
|PWAs are cost-effective and quicker to develop since they share a codebase across platforms.
|Native apps may require more resources and time due to platform-specific development.
|Hybrid apps aim to provide development efficiency, leveraging web technologies within a native framework.
|Platform Support and Reach
|PWAs are accessible across various platforms through web browsers, enhancing reach.
|Native apps are platform-specific (iOS, Android), limiting cross-platform reach.
|Hybrid apps attempt to combine cross-platform reach with some platform-specific advantages.
|Access to Device Features
|PWAs have increasing access to device features but may be limited compared to native apps.
|Native apps have direct and extensive access to device features, providing a seamless user experience.
|Hybrid apps aim to bridge the gap by combining web technologies with native capabilities for enhanced device feature access.
Depending on the use case, there are different ways to implement an app. Lightpoint developers suggest raising the following questions:
- How dependent is the app on the device’s hardware?
- Can the project also be implemented as a web application?
- Is publication in the App Store or Google Play desired/necessary?
If unique requirements pose similar issues for your business, contact our experts for a consultation. We provide custom web app development services to ensure tailored and optimized PWA solutions.
Advantages and Disadvantages of PWA
When developing an app, it is necessary to consider the features and functions you want and then think about what you want to achieve with them. With intelligent programming languages, you can no longer develop twice and can still implement a native app. PWAs can be interesting for small apps with a less complex structure and for the realization of prototypes that can later be converted into a hybrid app, for example.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of PWAs one by one.
Advantages of progressive web apps:
- Installation-free: Installing PWAs requires just a few clicks, not only on PC but also on mobile devices like smartphones or tablets. No store approval is needed, although it’s essential to note that there’s no check for harmful components, emphasizing the importance of security considerations.
- Lower costs: Imagine an e-commerce website. Besides the standalone online shop, businesses often invest in iOS and Android apps to broaden their platform presence and deliver an enhanced shopping experience. However, this supplementary development incurs additional costs. A promising alternative is the PWA, which serves as an app and a regular website and aligns well with the mobile-first principle. The key benefits of PWA are its singular development requirement, eliminating each platform’s need for separate development.
- Cross-platform compatibility: PWAs provide seamless functionality across various devices and operating systems, including desktops, smartphones, and tablets. PWAs eliminate the need for platform-specific development, offering a consistent user experience and accessibility through web browsers, contributing to broader audience reach and reduced development efforts.
- Reduced app size: PWAs typically have a smaller file size than native apps. However, it’s essential to note that appearances can be deceiving, as PWAs often reload content from the web server, mitigating the perceived size advantage in the long run.
- Responsive design: All content can then be accessed with almost any device because the website adapts to the display and functions of the respective output device. PWAs adjust their layout and content presentation automatically, providing a consistent and visually appealing interface.
One industry in which PWAs are playing an increasingly important role is marketing. Aspects of PWAs that are particularly useful for marketing include the following:
- They offer a similar good user experience as native apps and are more cost-effective to produce.
- Advantages in search engine optimization (SEO), as PWAs are indexable and appear in web searches.
Now, let’s move on to the flip side.
Disadvantages of progressive web apps:
- Hardware proximity challenges. PWA limitations apply to applications requiring close hardware integration; for instance, a graphic-intensive game with intricate device-specific controls may not perform optimally as a PWA.
- Security concerns. Since PWA technologies operate over the web, they are subject to the same security considerations as traditional websites. This exposes them to potential vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting (XSS) or data interception. While efforts are made to ensure the security of PWAs, the nature of web-based applications introduces inherent risks that must be carefully addressed to safeguard sensitive user data and maintain overall system integrity.
- Discoverability drawbacks. While not being listed in an app store is an advantage, it could pose a challenge; for instance, a niche utility app might struggle to gain visibility without the typical app store exposure.
- The need for regular caching. The emphasis on web infrastructure and caching is crucial for PWAs; for example, a news app needs robust caching to ensure users can access recent articles even without an internet connection.
- Comparatively higher power consumption: PWAs consume more battery than native applications. This heightened consumption arises from the fact that PWA code operates at a higher level, making it more challenging for mobile devices to interpret efficiently.
The features discussed above reflect what PWAs can currently do with the latest versions of browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. There’s hope for wider PWA support in the future, with Microsoft working on it for Edge. However, Apple’s Safari only partially supports PWAs – they can’t work offline, and you can’t add them to the app drawer on iOS devices.
The future will show whether progressive web apps can really compete with native apps — the chances of this happening are extremely good, thanks to well-known supporters. It is still questionable whether the PWA format will ever be fully compatible with Apple’s operating systems and browsers.
Hopefully, the PWA format will receive more attention and support from developers and users in the future. In that case, Apple’s reluctance towards the progressive app format will likely dwindle more. As a rule, no global player can afford to ignore a trend-setting and successful technology completely.
PWA Examples and Implementation Areas
Google defines the most important characteristics of PWAs as follows: they are reliable because they load content even with poor or insufficient connectivity. The PWA are also very fast because they react immediately to user input. This means there is hardly any chance of stalling when loading the page or scrolling.
You may not have even realized how widespread they are. Here are a few application examples in which PWAs are already being used — perhaps you even use one or two apps yourself:
- Starbucks: Starbucks utilizes a PWA to offer customers a seamless mobile experience for ordering drinks, exploring the menu, and locating nearby stores, all accessible directly through a web browser.
- BMW: BMW employs a PWA to enhance the online experience for users, allowing them to explore car models, customize features, and access interactive content without needing a dedicated app download.
- Pinterest: Pinterest leverages a PWA to provide users with a fast and responsive platform for discovering and saving ideas, images, and content, eliminating the need for a separate app installation.
- Spotify: Spotify’s PWA allows users to enjoy music on the go, offering a streamlined interface for searching, playing, and creating playlists directly from the web browser without requiring a traditional app installation.
- Twitter: Twitter utilizes a PWA to provide users with a lightweight and quick way to access their timelines, tweets, and engage in conversations, making it convenient for users who prefer a web-based experience.
- Google Maps Go: Google Maps Go is a PWA version of the popular mapping service, offering users a lighter alternative for navigation, location searches, and access to maps with reduced data usage.
- Telegram: Telegram employs a PWA to extend its messaging platform beyond dedicated apps, allowing users to send messages, share media, and participate in group chats directly from their web browsers, providing flexibility in usage.
Lancome published the most impressive use case, a well-known French luxury brand operating in the cosmetics world and part of the L’oréal group. As their use of mobile devices increased, they saw fewer conversions from mobile devices than from computers. This is why they decided to invest in PWA technologies to reduce the bounce rate of mobile devices. The result was very positive:
- Increase in conversions by 17%
- 8% increase in cart conversions achieved through push notifications.
- 15% drop in rebound rate
- 51% increase in sessions via mobile devices
- 84% time savings for page interactivity
As you can see, PWAs are revolutionizing user experiences across diverse applications. The collection above showcases how PWAs cater to many needs, providing efficient, accessible, and user-friendly solutions across various domains. PWA technologies open up many opportunities in various industries. You can explore the applications below:
- News, media, and publishing: A news site’s PWA ensures speedy access to articles, videos, and images, providing an engaging experience for readers, even on slower networks.
- Online shopping: Optimize e-commerce platforms with PWA capabilities for swift browsing of product catalogs and offline access to previously viewed items, enhancing user experience.
- Travel and tourism: Empower travelers with a PWA for seamless planning, ticket booking, hotel reservations, and local activity exploration, even in areas with limited internet connectivity.
- Business applications: Streamline business processes using a PWA for task management, inventory tracking, and customer data, ensuring efficiency and accessibility.
- E-learning: Deliver interactive learning experiences through a PWA, providing students access to online courses and educational resources on the go.
- Service applications: In the food industry, a PWA for ordering and delivery services offers customers a convenient and fast way to access and utilize services.
- Events and conferences: Elevate event participation with a PWA, providing details, schedules, and offline access, enhancing the overall attendee experience.
The streamlined production process, requiring the development of a single application that serves as both a website and an app across all platforms, not only reduces effort but also lowers costs, presenting a significant advantage for developers. When delving into PWA development, various tools empower developers to harness these benefits effectively.
|PWA Builder was originally developed by Microsoft and is able to check websites for their PWA suitability. The tool also makes it possible to subsequently integrate missing components.
The choice between ReactJS, Polymer, Vue.JS, and PWA Builder for PWA development depends on specific business needs and circumstances. To make the most informed decision, businesses should carefully evaluate their requirements and consider consulting with experienced partners in the field who can provide tailored insights and expertise in full cycle software development to ensure optimal PWA development aligned with specific business objectives.
The term “progressive web app” is not just a buzzword or a marketing term – with PWAs, app developers and business owners are breaking new technical ground.
Undeniably, PWAs may have limited access to device features like contacts, calendar, and Bluetooth, hindering functionality compared to native apps. Compatibility issues on older web browsers lacking modern web tech can impact user experience. PWAs may face SEO challenges compared to native apps, affecting discoverability.
Despite these limitations, PWAs can function offline or with low connectivity, ensuring continuous access to essential features and content, even in challenging network conditions. In addition, they prioritize speed and security, providing quick loading times and enhanced data protection, crucial for user satisfaction and trust. Opting for software supported by a trusted vendor ensures reliable implementation depending on your current business needs, ongoing support, and adherence to industry standards.