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What is a PWA? And why should I care?

The mobile app ecosystem is undergoing some radical changes, and PWAs are on the front line. You may have been hearing the term a bit lately, and are curious about the buzz. Other than looking cool at your next start-up happy hour (which I agree is important) there may be other reasons that a Progressive Web App is worth considering if you are in the market for a mobile app.

First things first. PWA stands for Progressive Web App. This is essentially an app that can be downloaded from the app stores and run on devices, just like native apps. However, instead of the traditional code languages used to write apps for iOS and Android, PWAs are developed using common web technologies – HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but still maintain the feel and functionality found on most native apps.

What’s cool about these apps is that because they are built using web technologies they can pull double duty as websites. Not only can they function as mobile apps on iOS and Android devices, they also function on the web. When a PWA is viewed on a device browser, it can then be saved to the home screen and will function as a mobile app. Your users can get the app on their devices instantly – without visiting the app store. If the PWA is well developed, users will never know that they are using a web-based app instead of a native one. It’s important to note that this is very different from a responsive website that may look quite good on a device, but is still just a website.

With all this, PWAs represent a significant alternative to the traditional mobile app.

Here are some of the key benefits of PWAs that I’ll discuss in the article:

  • You can deliver your app right over the web and avoid the arduous process of dealing with the app stores;
  • You can build PWAs with common web technologies, which means fewer developers and more common skill sets;
  • They are significantly cheaper to build, especially if multiple platforms are required;
  • If you use the codebase of your website for the app, you’ll have less code to maintain;
  • PWAs are discoverable via search engines (which have a far larger audience) in addition to being available on the app stores;
  • You can use still offer many of the most essential mobile app features, such as offline use, geolocation, access to device features such as the camera, push notifications, etc;
  • PWAs are extremely lightweight and fast to download;
Lets give it a try

A PWA is available right from the web without visiting the app stores. Pull out your phone and let’s do it together.

 

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1- Visit a website that uses a PWA on your device, such as Pinterest. You can also use Twitter, Forbes, the Washington Post, and many others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2- Save it to your home screen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3- It’s now available on your device as a fully functional mobile app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4- Open it – it looks and feels just like a native app, right? There is no page loading, content is immediately available. Try turning off your wi-fi and you’ll see it functions offline as expected from an app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Companies like Starbucks, Pinterest, Forbes, Uber, and many others have adopted PWAs and are reporting massive increases in user participation since launching the PWA version.

The trouble with native

To be frank, nothing outperforms a native mobile app, or offers as wide an array of functionality. This is because a native app is built exclusively for a single platform, using the coding language specific to that platform. In the case of Android apps developers use Java, and for iOS apps developers use Swift. But this specificity comes with a price – a rather steep one.

One can easily imagine the costs associated with running two separate app development teams, each highly trained in a specific technical language – and now maintaining two separate code bases. Compare that to running a single team that uses well-known web technologies that develops for both platforms simultaneously.

Once the native mobile app is developed, it has to be uploaded to its respective app stores for iOS and Android. This can be an arduous process (especially for iOS apps!) And has to be repeated every time there is a change to the app, which can be quite time-consuming, and inconvenient for the end user. Avoiding the Apple and Google stores can be a big plus. Studies have shown that app downloads are steadily dropping, and the ability to make your app readily available on the web can have a significant impact on adoption rates.

It’s also worth noting that Apple, which already has a very slow and cumbersome approval process, is becoming more and more strict about the acceptance criteria of apps in their store. Thousand of apps have been recently removed from the store. In the most recent guidelines, Apple makes the ominously cryptic statement:

“If your app is not particularly useful, unique, or “app-like,” it doesn’t belong on the App Store.”

Could this mean that you spend significant resources on building a native app only to have it be rejected by Apple? Not a reassuring prospect after spending tens of thousands of dollars on a native app!

Avoiding the Apple and Google app stores can be a big plus.

PWAs on the other hand allow your users to get your app – and any subsequent updates, quickly and easily, right from the web, simply by visiting your website, or a link you provide. For certain the web-based PWA doesn’t have the full range of bells and whistles that a natively built app can offer, but it does offer many of the most essential ones. It’s been evolving rapidly since Google presented the first version in 2015 and will certainly continue to do so. Identifying the functionality you need for your app is critical.

What’s next?

When considering developing a mobile app for your company, there are some essential questions. Perhaps the most important one is –

does my organization really need a mobile app?

In many cases a modern, well-designed responsive website will meet the need of a mobile-friendly presence at a fraction of the cost of an app.

If the answer is yes, then what type of app, and with which features?

  • Does it have the functionality and performance requirements to justify the premium price tag of a native app?
  • Does it need to pull double duty as a website or a desktop application?
  • Does it need to go in the app stores exclusively, or would it be better to allow users the convenient option of simply downloading via the web?

If you are interested in diving deeper in to the topic, here is a great link from the developers at Ionic. The Ionic framework is a fantastic choice for building both traditional mobile apps and PWAs.

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