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What is a Progressive Web App and why should you use it?

You may have seen the abbreviation PWA several times, but do you know what it stands for? PWA stands for Progressive Web App. Progressive Web Apps are advanced websites that function as an app. They are: responsive, progressive, online and offline to use, always up-to-date, secure and, just like regular websites, searchable. Do you want to know why you want to use this for your website?

Difference between Progressive Web Apps, native apps and responsive websites

Before we explain what a Progressive Web App exactly is and when you should use it, it is important to first clearify the difference between PWA’s, Native apps and responsive websites.

Native apps are applications that are offered through the app store and can be downloaded on your smartphone or tablet. Responsive websites are websites that are optimized for different screen sizes like smartphones and tablets. PWA’s on the otherhand are web applications that work via the browser of your phone or tablet. They have the look and feel of a native application.

Adding PWA to the homescreen

A service worker for a reliable experience

A Progressive Web App uses a service worker. A service worker is a script that runs in the background in your browser. It ensures that things can be done without user interaction. An example of this is receiving a push notification, further on your can read more about it. If you want to know a little more about service workers you can read this post from Matt Gaunt.

The service worker also ensures that the content remains up-to-date by caching content in the background. This improves the loading time and it is even possible to use the Progressive Web App offline. The service worker determines whether you will see the live version of the website or if you see the cached version based on having an internet connection yes or no.

A manifest to control appearance

It is a simple JSON file that defines the basic parameters of PWA, to control how the app should appear to the user and define its appearance at launch: icons, other basic features such as colors, fonts, screen orientation and possibility of being installed on the home screen.

Progressive Web App does not have to be downloaded

Unlike a native app, you don’t have to download a Progressive Web App to use it on your phone. Instead, create a shortcut from your browser on the home screen of your phone. From here you can quickly and easily open the Progressive Web App via the shortcut. Because it is not a native app, the app does not have to be downloaded and that saves storage space.

But how do you as a user know when you can use a Progressive Web App? When a visitor visits the website for the second time in two weeks, he receives an “Add to homescreen” message. By clicking on this, the Progressive Web App is added to the home screen by means of a shortcut. Do you want the visitor to have the Progressive Web App create a shortcut on the first visit? This can be solved by stating on the home page that a PWA is available and that it can be added to the home screen via the browser menu.

Always the latest version

Native apps must be manually updated by the user when a new version of the application is available. With these apps it may be that you use an outdated version or that you cannot use the app at all before you perform an update. A Progressive Web App is more user-friendly in this area. It is not necessary to update a PWA. This is because the service worker runs the content update in the background and provides caching. This keeps the Progressive Web App up-to-date.

Have customers come back with notifications

Sending notifications was already possible in native applications, but not yet on normal websites. This has been a reason for many companies to choose to develop a native application. Progressive Web Apps, however, change this. With PWA’s it is possible to send push messages. You might want to use this for blog posts and/or new products!

When do you use a Progressive Web App?

Depending on your wishes and goals you can choose between a native app, Progressive Web App or just a responsive website. Wondering if a PWA is something for your business?

You should consider PWA if:

  • You’ve just started and want a simple app for your user: PWA requires no download and lets you interact with the user via push notifications;
  • You have time and budget constraints: PWA takes less time and money to develop and publish;
  • You want to improve brand awareness and SEO: PWA is similar to any website and reaches a wide audience.

You should consider native app if:

  • You want to build credibility for your brand: Being published on app stores increase reliability and native apps have more security options;
  • You want to utilize advanced smartphone features: If geo-fencing and sensor/detection are essential to UX or your product requires great computing power.

But what about the weaknesses of PWA’s?

There are some downsides by using a PWA. We have listed the most common and important weaknesses of a Progressive Web App below:

  • iOS support from version 11.3 onwards;
  • greater use of the device battery;
  • not all devices support the full range of PWA features (same speech for iOS and Android operating systems);
  • it is not possible to establish a strong re-engagement for iOS users (URL scheme, standard web notifications);
  • support for offline execution is however limited;
  • lack of presence on the stores (there is no possibility to acquire traffic from that channel);
  • there is no “body” of control (like the stores) and an approval process;
  • limited access to some hardware components of the devices;
  • little flexibility regarding “special” content for users (eg loyalty programs, loyalty, etc.).

Progressive web apps are changing the web before our eyes. You can view amazing case studies from large companies that show what a great effect progressive web apps have on their business and revenue.

This trend makes the internet user the first-class citizen of mobile devices. Native APIs in browsers will eventually reach the potential of native applications (or are very close to them).