A few weeks ago at the All Things Open conference I was introduced to a term I had heard a few times but had not done much research on: “Progressive Web Apps”. Wikipedia describes Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) as “regular web pages or websites but can appear to the user like traditional applications or native mobile applications. In other words, PWAs are websites that look and behave like mobile apps. Now, isn’t that interesting?

It appears that the main priority of PWAs is to combine the benefits of modern browsers and web development with the benefits of a mobile experience. Several checklists by Google Developers contain the requirements for being considered a baseline PWA as well as an exemplary PWA. They also suggest using the Lighthouse tool for “improving the performance, quality, and correctness of your webapps.”

The baseline PWA requirements are:

  • Site is served over HTTPS
  • Pages are responsive on tablets & mobile devices
  • All app URLs load while offline
  • Metadata provided for Add to Home screen
  • First load fast even on 3G
  • Site works cross-browser
  • Page transitions don’t feel like they block on the network
  • Each page has a URL

It is evident from this list of requirements that Progressive Web Apps are really aimed at providing a secure, modern online and offline experience, much like mobile apps. Let’s look at some reasons why people might prefer a PWA to a native mobile app.

Preferring PWAs


Discoverability

PWAs allow developers to leverage the search engine benefits of SEO practices. In this way, existing search engine SEO strategies can be employed in order to promote an app rather than App Store Optimization techniques.

Usability

One of the requirements for classification as a PWA is that is works across different browsers. This rule means that not only can PWAs be used on computers across operating systems, but on mobile web browsers as well.

Additionally, users don’t need to go through the process of grabbing an app install from the app store. This implies that developers also don’t need to go through the process of uploading apps to be reviewed by Google and Apple before releasing any updates. This, in turn, means instant updates for developers and end users.

Caching / Offline Usage

One of the typical benefits of mobile apps over web apps are the amount of storage you have access to. With modern Cache APIs, users can install their PWAs to their home screen and access the app offline without needing to download any additional data. This functionality mimics that of a mobile app and unlike most websites, allows users to use the app even without internet.

Push Notifications

The age of notifications is upon us. Hardly an hour goes by without receiving a handful of notifications from various social media networks, emails, messages, etc. PWAs bring this functionality to the web, allowing you to receive notifications straight to your device, whatever it may be.

Hesitations about PWAs

While there are many upsides to the growth of Progressive Web Apps, upsides I am personally excited about, I would be remiss if I didn’t address their potential downsides as well.

Security

Because PWAs don’t receive the same sort of App Store review that Google and Apple require, developers can stick anything they want into their apps. This means that if a developer chooses to be secretly malicious, they could, and there’s no review process stopping them from doing so.

Functionality

Web apps can do a lot, but they can’t do everything. There is a lot of functionality only able to be utilized by native mobile apps still. PWAs are gaining ground every day, and as such are growing in the number of previously native-only features offered. Despite their gains, however, native apps still have many features that PWAs simply don’t have the ability to accomplish yet. Check this site to see if the functionality you want to add can be done with a PWA!

Platform Limitations

Plain and simple, iOS likes iOS apps. PWAs are only as successful as the platform that they are to be used on. As stated above, PWAs are gaining support every day. Within a few years I fully expect PWAs to have a majority of the functionality normally afforded solely to native apps.

Final Thoughts

Progressive Web Apps are a wave. Whether they are the wave of the future is yet to be seen. The fact that Google is pushing PWAs should be a sign of things to come, as they are often at the forefront of web development technologies (See: Angular, Vue). It will be awhile before PWAs gain all the functionality that native apps currently have, but they are on their way. Batten down the hatches and ignore the naysayers – viva la Progressive Web App!

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