Is the Progressive Web App here to stay?

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Oli Taylor


October 31, 2018

Progressive Web Apps have been widely discussed at Absurd recently. We’re interested in whether they will disrupt the demand for native apps

In a nutshell a PWA is a web app which uses modern web capabilities to deliver an app-like experience. They don't need to be installed through an app store and offer the same consistent experience across multiple devices.

The progressive web app has already been adopted by many brands. One of the most well executed examples of a PWA is by Starbucks, who have seen much success. It was reported at Google I/O earlier this year that the Starbucks PWA has doubled the number of daily active users to their website which in turn has doubled the number of orders made online. Desktop users are now ordering at a similar rate to mobile users too.

A great benefit of PWAs is that they enable organisations to serve the same app (using a shared codebase) across mobile and desktop devices delivering a consistent experience to all users, whilst bringing both cost and time efficiencies to projects.

Developing a PWA it is not too dissimilar to building a website - a team of traditional web developers can do the job; removing the need for hiring native app developers for each native app platform. On top of that, single updates can be rolled out so that both Android and iOS users always get the same experience

"PWAs are here to radically improve the user's experience"

Speaking at last week’s UX Live conference, Google’s Jenny Gove told us how PWAs are here to radically improve the user's experience. Using a FIRE acronym, the benefits of PWAs can be described as the following:

  • Fast - They respond quickly to user interactions with silky smooth animations and no janky scrolling.
  • Integrated - Repeat users can easily add these to their home screen to create a launch icon.
  • Reliable - They load instantly and never show the “downasaur”, even in uncertain network conditions.
  • Engaging - They feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.

With in an increasing number of browsers now supporting PWAs, the most recent additions being Safari and Microsoft Edge, we expect them to become more widely adopted by brands in the coming months.

As with anything we must consider the limitations, PWAs cannot utilise a devices’ native APIs such as Bluetooth, offline worker processes etc. and not every browser supports them yet, (although all major ones do). Performance can also be limited too compared to a native app where these can hook directly into the system bus. WebAssembly is improving this however.

They’re also not accessed through the app stores, so there is a behavioural shift required for users who are used to native apps. Yet the simplicity of installing a PWA on a device could be perceived as another benefit; for example, Android users of PWAs are prompted by a message when they land on the web app, asking to “Add to Home Screen”. This is a one click task which then “installs” the PWA on the phone, providing a launch icon like any native app.

So on top of the performance and consistency benefits, PWAs actually eradicate the effort it takes to locate and download an app from the app stores. (Which in itself relies on the user having a strong internet connection and the time to wait for the download to install).

There are benefits of using a PWA and we think that they definitely have a role where native apps fall down, beyond the efficiencies that they bring. The question remains though; will the native app ever become redundant?

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