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What are Progressive Web Apps or PWAs?: A Beginner’s Guide

  • Amit Manchanda
  • By  Amit Manchanda
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  • 87D32530-FD6E-468E-BB24-045278513D21 Created with sketchtool. 5 MIN READ
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  • 6BCC25D0-42B3-420B-8C28-C5D7EF3F6856 Created with sketchtool. Updated: April 5, 2021

Traditionally, a user needs to download an app exclusively for Android and iOS. However, the existing problems with these native apps concerning storage space, loading speed, and data consumption have increased. This is the primary reason behind the introduction of a progressive web app (PWA) that manages to eliminate the above-mentioned friction points.

53% of mobile visits are abandoned if a site takes longer than three seconds to load.Think With Google

Progressive web apps are a perfect solution for offering a user experience design similar to that of an app on the web itself. This is a growing trend that businesses have been actively following, considering the rise in mobile usage.

In this write-up, we will explore more on progressive web apps and how it is becoming the future of apps.

What is a Progressive Web App (PWA)?

A progressive web app (PWA) is a website that resembles and behaves like a mobile app. Both — mobile app development and web development practices come into play when building a progressive web app.

It is written using web languages such as HTML, CSS, or Javascript, yet resembles a native app.

A PWA lets you access the same user interface as that of a native app on its mobile website. Tweet This

Progressive Web App Examples

Twitter Lite is the best example of PWA. A user can access the app through mobile.twitter.com.

Twitter’s progressive web app helped increase engagement rates, reduce data usage, and improve loading times.

According to Google, Twitter Lite led to:

Twitter Lite PWA Example | Progressive Web Apps

Twitter Lite is now the fastest, least expensive, and most reliable way to use Twitter. The web app rivals the performance of our native apps but requires less than 3% of the device storage space compared to Twitter for Android. — Nicolas Gallagher, the Engineering Lead for Twitter Lite

Besides Twitter, other noteworthy examples of progressive web apps include — Facebook, Alibaba, Starbucks, Tinder, etc.

Progressive Web App vs Native App

A progressive web application runs on the mobile web but delivers a good user experience similar to that of a native app. The objective of a PWA is to reduce loading time and reduce data consumption.

On the other hand:

A native app is a mobile app that is specifically built for a particular operating system. For instance, an app coded in Java runs on Android, and an app coded with Object C runs on iOS (though the functionality remains the same).

The following table helps differentiate between progressive web apps and native apps based on some other crucial parameters:

Parameter
Progressive Web App
Native App
Available on: Mobile website Apple store, Play Store
Cost Cheaper to build Expensive as you have to develop differently for iOS and Android
Manageability Easy with one universal codebase Challenging as you have to maintain different code for the web, Android, and iOS
Offline Functionality Available with the help of caching Not available
Push Notifications Available through “Push API.” A push API enables a web application to receive messages and notifications pushed to them through a server Supports a standard mobile push notification system
Storage Minimal Extra storage needed, which is equal to the app’s size
Development Time Less — one universal version that works across devices and operating systems More — as two versions need to be developed

Characteristics of a Progressive Web App

The defining features of progressive web apps include:

  • Progressive: Works universally, irrespective of the web browser a user is using
  • Responsive: Works optimally across devices, i.e., mobile, desktop, or tablet (regardless of the screen size).
  • Discoverable: Can be easily be found by the search engines. Google’s latest search algorithm prioritizes PWA, which thus, increases the probability of improving its ranking
  • Connectivity Independent: Works with low internet connectivity and also offers offline support with the help of caching
  • App-Like: The user experience is an imitated version of any native mobile application
  • Safe: Offers “HTTPS” support to ensure safety and security of the content
  • Re-engageable: Availability of push notifications system through “Push API.”
  • Fresh: The content is periodically synced and updated with the help of a service worker script
  • Linkable: The PWA can be easily be shared in the form of a URL
  • Installable: Users can add the icon of a PWA to their app drawer without having to go through the struggle of installing from the Playstore or Apple Store

Technologies used by PWAs

Many technologies make a progressive web app, ingraining a uniqueness and a seamless experience throughout the application, instinctively differentiating them from the traditional web applications and even the single-page applications.

Progressive Web Applications make use of the following key technologies:

 PWA Technologies | Progressive Web Apps

  • Manifest: The Manifest allows PWAs to have a metadata configuration, default orientation, display mode, icons, and all kinds of necessary application configurations
  • Service Worker: Service Workers allow PWAs to work without internet connectivity. The Service Worker makes it possible to handle cache and provide a pleasant offline experience
  • Web Storage: Web Storage allows the applications to manage browser sessions since PWAs are not directly opened through browsers
  • Database Libraries: Mobile applications make use of specific database libraries. PWAs also need the means to store data. With the help of non-relational databases like PouchDB, RxDB, PWAs can store data efficiently

Benefits of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

PWAs are gaining traction as it promises to deliver the kind of user experience that customers demand. To be more specific, here are some of the progressive web app benefits to consider:

Benefits of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) | Net Solutions

  • Fast loading time — only critical resources are loaded when the request for the PWA page is sent initially, thus, improving the loading speed. The service worker caches additional resources meanwhile, which further improves the navigation speed to other pages
  • Improvement in user engagement — with web page push notifications served by the service worker
  • Low storage space required — as a PWA runs on the web and does not require an additional installation. For instance, Twitter’s PWA version is only 600KB compared to its native app version that is around 23.5MB
  • Low data consumption — as a PWA relies on minimal media resources, optimized images, and cached data to an extent
  • Offers offline support — as the service worker caches CSS, JavaScript, and even images to facilitate repeat visits
  • Cost-effective app development — as you only need to develop a single, universal code that works across browsers and platforms over putting extra efforts and spending resources for Android development and iOS development
  • Saves time spent on development — developing a single version requires less time compared to creating a separate native app for Android and iOS, respectively
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PWA Use Cases

A progressive web app might not always be the right choice for you. Choose to develop a PWA only if:

  • Storage, loading speed, and less data consumption is your priority
  • You plan to focus on both the web and mobile
  • A native app is your priority, and you also have an app store optimization (ASO) strategy in place
  • Bluetooth connectivity is not a priority as PWAs do not support Bluetooth functionality currently
  • You are not exclusively targeting iOS. Running progressive web apps on iOS has been possible since the launch of iOS 11.3, which implies that older operating systems cannot access PWAs. Moreover, iOS users cannot fully access certain app features when using a PWA

Progressive Web App Checklist

When building a progressive web app, always prioritize the following parameters:

  • Offline support
  • Push Notifications
  • Images that support vector graphics (due to smaller file size)
  • An icon that should be at least 144 X 144 in png format
  • Web accessibility (should adhere to WCAG 2.0 norms)
  • Search engine friendly (should be discoverable)
  • Works fine with any input type, be it a — mouse, keyboard, or a touch
  • Maintain an organized software architecture to minimize technical debt
  • Should originate from a secure source

Conclusion

A progressive web app (PWA) offers a native app-like user experience on the mobile web. Businesses worldwide are adopting PWAs as it does not consume storage as that of a native app, does not have to be developed separately for different devices/operating systems, consumes less data, and supports fast loading.

So, is a progressive web app (PWA) the future of apps?

Yes, we can agree on that. PWAs equate to a win-win situation. On the one hand, a PWA addresses the user’s needs by offering fast loading and less data consumption. On the other hand, a PWA is cheaper to build and provides a competitive edge and better ROIs as “speed” is a critical parameter that drives business growth in a digital space.

However, developing a progressive web app is not enough. The icing on the cake is a fool-proof marketing plan to increase the usage of your PWA.

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Amit Manchanda

About the Author

Amit Manchanda is working at Net Solutions as Project Lead and has over 9 years of experience in technologies like ASP, Adobe Flex, and Android. He has been part of SME (Subject Matter Expert) Group for RIA applications. He possesses a sound understanding of technical requirement/problem analysis and resolution for providing the best solutions to clients. He is passionate about his work and enjoys interacting with his team. In his leisure time, he loves to listen to music, watch cricket, and play with his daughter.

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