What is a Progressive Web Application, and why choose a PWA for your start-up business?

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First, let’s take a look at a PWA’s definition and history. A PWA can be defined as a web application that can be run in a browser and looks like a mobile app.

The first creator of PWA technology was Microsoft, in 2000. After that in 2007 Apple created its own version of HTML applications, and the first applications for the original iPhone were developed on the web platform and were available in Safari. Still, because of poor UX the technology was not so successful. The active development of native applications postponed the development of PWAs until 2015, when the expansion of the Google Chrome browser capabilities and the promotion of Service Worker and Web App Manifest gave PWAs a chance to shine.

Significant changes in the implementation of web standards took place in 2018, and Apple added Service Worker support to the mobile version (iOS 11.3) of Safari and to Safari for macOS. Microsoft also added Service Worker support to the Microsoft Edge browser and, in addition, Windows 10 introduced the ability to distribute PWAs through the Microsoft Store.

As of April 2020, offline work with PWA could provide iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, macOS and Chrome OS in Chrome browsers, Safari, Firefox, Edge, and Samsung Internet.

PWA’s benefits and drawbacks

For us to better understand why PWAs are so effective, Google suggests a helpful acronym: FIRE — Fast, Integrated, Reliable, and Engaging.

Fast: PWAs use a Service Worker for request processing, caching, and other functionality. This allows PWAs to run more than 2-3x faster than regular websites. Faster loading speed improves the user experience. You can also quickly re-launch the application without a network connection.

Integrated: Due to the constantly evolving set of web capabilities, PWAs integrate better with native hardware than regular websites and are close to native applications in terms of user experience: they offer a similar interface, have access to the device’s hardware (push notifications, camera, GPS, etc.), are installed on the home screen, etc.

Reliable: PWAs work offline or with a slow internet connection. In addition, any actions you take while offline will also be applied when connected to the network.

Engaging: PWAs speed, reliability, and capability to interact with users (push notifications, etc.) increase their interest and get them involved in the work with the app.

More benefits:

  • A PWA requires no app store and no installation and updates, just a URL and a browser. However, users can add them to the home screen of their mobile devices.
  • PWAs take up much less space than native apps.
  • PWAs are easier to distribute. As progressive web apps have URLs, they can be indexed by search engines like Google and thus the chances of their distribution among users increase significantly.
  • Connections between the user, the app, and the server are secured against third parties.
  • PWAs tend to be faster to build, and you don’t need to build multiple versions as PWAs only need a single code base that will run on different devices (mobiles, tablets, etc.).
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Keeping in mind all the benefits, there are still significant drawbacks that limit the competitiveness of PWAs. For example:

  • Limited support for device features. Some device features are not available using the current web browser capabilities. This is especially true for supporting iOS features such as camera, motion sensors, etc. Therefore, PWA compatibility in iOS may be limited. In addition, PWAs do not have access to SMS and contacts – this negatively impacts the user experience.
  • Higher battery usage. PWAs are developed using JavaScript, which is harder to process on mobile devices compared with native apps.

Why start with a PWA?

Starting a new business is always exciting, it provides many opportunities and opens new doors. At the same time, any business is characterized by a certain level of risk, and it’s especially true for startups. Any startup company faces plenty of risks, such as product risks, financial and market risks, etc. Any new solution coming to the market has to attract users’ attention and “change the world” in its own way. Startups face many challenges: they need to understand customers’ needs; deliver a quality solution, usually within constraints of time, resources or cost; grow their businesses and gain a reputation. When talking about application development, many startups focus on comparing Native applications and PWAs.

Both Native applications and PWAs have their strengths and weaknesses. Currently, PWAs are not ready to completely replace Native apps. However, in terms of cost, time and development efforts Native implementation takes longer. Native apps tend to be written in a programming language for each platform (Objective-C and Swift in iOS, Java in Android) and you need to build multiple versions. When turning to PWAs, they use JavaScript and JS frameworks, HTML, CSS and at the same time they enable a native-app-like user experience. They also provide the best features of the web, such as real-time loading, access to diverse browsers, and Google indexing.

When starting your own business, it’s important to remember that one of the keys to success in product development is to constantly get users’ feedback. Based on users’ comments and reactions, you can analyze their needs, follow their desires and deliver new features and updates accordingly. PWAs are faster to implement and bring to market. Their adaptiveness to the platforms allows you to reach a larger audience faster, and their searchability through Google engines contributes to their quick distribution. All these advantages help to attract more users and hence, analyze their needs in a more comprehensive way.

By choosing a PWA approach, you can implement your solution in a more cost-effective way compared to Native apps (use a single code base for several platforms, avoid expenses for store accounts, etc.) and at the same time deliver a good product in terms of speed, performance, security and UX.

But will you still need to build a Native App?

For some businesses, especially in the ecommerce industry, a PWA could be an even better option because it’s fast, doesn’t require downloading and many confirmations, takes up less space and its capabilities are often enough to meet business and user requirements. Brands such as Pinterest, Twitter, Spotify, Lancôme, AliExpress, Starbucks and many others already use PWA technology and get significant results in terms of user retention and engagement.

Still, if you want to provide a better customer experience, use more of the device’s features and capabilities and build in more measures for security, then, presently, Native development will provide more opportunities for this.

Conclusion

A PWA is like a golden mean between a website and a mobile application. It is powerful and adaptive. The main benefit of a Progressive Web Application is its prevailing platform-independent nature. It loads quickly, installs in the background and does not require additional action from users. By choosing PWAs, Startups can implement their ideas quicker and more cost-effectively, being sure it doesn’t influence quality. Although PWA technology still has a number of drawbacks, it is actively developing and becoming more and more popular.

Do you think PWAs are the Future? Please, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Sofia Volkova

Sofia Volkova

Business Development Manager