Over the past years, Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) have changed how we access and interact with applications. Users can now simply discover and access applications through a quick search engine query or a direct URL. No waiting, no hassle.
Big brands like Spotify, Instagram, Telegram and Starbucks have all implemented and yielded benefits from Progressive Web Applications. After all, they are cost-effective, work across multiple platforms and allow businesses to save time, effort and resources that could’ve been spent on developing separate native apps. However, at the same time, PWAs can bring challenges when it comes to older devices or browsers or might be limited in performance due to their restricted access to device features.
In this article, we take a deep dive into this topic, examining the pros and cons of progressive web applications.
What are Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)?
Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) are web-based applications that leverage modern web technologies to provide an app-like experience. They can be installed on a user’s device and accessed offline, blurring the line between web and native apps. PWAs offer cross-platform compatibility and are capable of adapting to various devices, therefore, eliminating the need for separate native app development.
Explained simply, a progressive web app (PWA) is a website that looks and behaves like a mobile application. They are built to allow users access to most of the features a mobile app provides without requiring the end user to download and install an application. Instead, PWAs can be found through search engines and accessed immediately via a browser.
They make use of standardised technologies and run in a secure container that is accessible to everyone on the web but leverage push notifications, work offline and can be added to the mobile device home screen just like traditional mobile applications.
What are the differences between Progressive, Hybrid and Native apps?
When considering the adoption of Progressive Web Applications (PWAs), businesses need to carefully evaluate their specific use cases, requirements, and target audience. While PWAs offer numerous benefits, they also have limitations to consider.
Each type of app has its own advantages and considerations, and the choice among them depends on multiple factors like development resources, performance requirements, target audience or desired functionalities. Explore the difference between progressive, hybrid and native apps below.
Progressive apps, also known as Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), are web applications that provide a native-like experience to users. They leverage modern web technologies to deliver app-like features and functionality. Here are the key characteristics of progressive web apps:
Progressive apps are not tied to a specific platform or operating system. They can run on any device with a modern web browser, including smartphones, tablets, and desktops.
Users can access progressive apps directly through a URL without the need for installation from an app store. This makes them easily discoverable and accessible to a broader audience.
Progressive apps can work offline or in low-connectivity situations. They can cache data and content, allowing users to continue using the app even without an active internet connection.
Progressive web applications are designed to adapt to different screen sizes and orientations. They provide a consistent user experience across various devices, ensuring usability and engagement.
They can also leverage push notifications to engage and re-engage users. They can send timely updates, alerts, or personalised messages, enhancing user engagement and retention.
Hybrid mobile applications allow developers to write code once and deploy it across multiple platforms, such as iOS and Android. This saves development time and effort compared to building separate native apps.
Hybrid apps can access device-specific features and APIs through native plugins. This enables them to utilise functions like camera, geolocation, and accelerometer, providing a native-like experience.
App Store Distribution
Hybrid apps can be published in app stores, making them easily discoverable and downloadable by users. They benefit from the distribution channels and visibility provided by app stores.
Hybrid apps rely on web technologies wrapped in a native shell. While they can achieve good performance for most use cases, they might not match the level of performance and responsiveness offered by fully native apps.
Native apps are developed specifically for a particular platform or operating system, such as iOS or Android. They are built using platform-specific programming languages (Swift/Objective-C for iOS, Java/Kotlin for Android). Here are the key characteristics of native apps:
Native apps are designed to leverage the full capabilities and performance of the underlying platform. They have direct access to device-specific features and APIs, resulting in smooth and responsive user experiences.
Enhanced User Experience
Native applications can provide a highly tailored and optimized user experience. They follow platform-specific design guidelines and integrate seamlessly with the device’s interface, leading to a familiar and intuitive user interface.
App Store Distribution
Native apps can be distributed through official app stores, allowing users to discover, download, and update them easily. App stores provide a trusted environment for users and offer various promotional and monetisation opportunities for developers.
Native apps are limited to the platform they are developed for. Building separate apps for different platforms can be time-consuming and costly. Additionally, maintaining and updating multiple codebases may require more resources.
Pros of Progressive Web Applications (PWAs)
Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) offer a range of benefits helping businesses reach a wider audience by running on any device or operating system. They also provide a consistent experience across different screen sizes, reducing development costs, delivering fast and responsive performance and engaging users with features like push notifications. Explore the main benefits of progressive web applications below.
PWAs are designed to run on any device or operating system, making them highly compatible and allowing businesses to reach a wider audience. This eliminates the need for separate app development for different platforms.
Progressive web apps are responsive and adaptive, providing a consistent user experience across various screen sizes, resolutions, and devices. Users can access the app from their desktops, smartphones, or tablets without compromising usability.
Developing a PWA requires less time and resources compared to creating separate native apps for different platforms. By investing in building a single application, businesses can save on development and maintenance costs.
PWAs are mainly optimised for speed and quick loading times. They leverage advanced web technologies and caching mechanisms to provide a smooth and responsive user experience, even on slower connections or no connectivity.
Engaging user experience
PWAs offer features similar to native apps, such as push notifications, smooth animations, and offline functionality. These features contribute to a more engaging and immersive user experience.
One of the significant advantages of PWAs is their ability to work offline or in low connectivity situations. Users can continue to access and interact with the app, view cached content, and perform actions without internet access.
Easy updates and maintenance
PWAs can be updated seamlessly without requiring users to update the app manually. As a result, businesses can roll out new features, bug fixes, and improvements quickly, ensuring users always have the latest version.
Discoverability and SEO benefits
PWAs are discoverable through search engines, which can boost organic traffic and improve the app’s visibility. This provides businesses with SEO advantages and increases the chances of attracting new users.
Overall, PWAs offer a cost-effective, cross-platform solution with enhanced performance, offline capabilities, and engaging user experiences. They provide businesses with an opportunity to reach a broader audience while simplifying the development and maintenance process.
What are the downsides of progressive web applications (PWAs)?
While progressive web applications (PWAs) offer numerous benefits, there are a few downsides to be considered. We’ve listed some of the cons of progressive web applications below.
PWAs, being web-based applications, may be susceptible to certain vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting (XSS) or data breaches. However, it’s important to note that these risks can be mitigated through regular updates and the implementation of proper security measures. Adhering to best practices in web security, such as using secure connections, implementing robust authentication mechanisms, and conducting thorough vulnerability assessments, can help minimize the potential risks associated with PWAs.
Limited offline functionality
While PWAs offer offline functionality to some extent by leveraging service workers and caching, they may not provide the same level of offline capabilities as native apps. Native apps often have more extensive offline features and can offer a seamless experience even in areas with poor or no internet connectivity.
Lack of deep platform integration
PWAs generally lack deep integration with the underlying operating system. Native apps, on the other hand, can fully utilise the native platform’s capabilities and provide a more integrated user experience. This can include features access to system-level APIs and better performance optimisation.
User perception and adoption
Despite the increasing popularity and advancements in PWAs, some users may still perceive them as less trustworthy or feature-limited compared to native apps. This perception can influence user adoption and affect the app’s overall success.
It’s important to consider the potential downsides alongside previously mentioned benefits when deciding whether to develop a PWA or opt for a native app. The choice should be made based on the specific requirements of the project, target audience, available resources, and the trade-offs that align with the desired functionalities and user experience.
Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) have undoubtedly brought numerous advantages to the world of app development. By seamlessly blending the best aspects of native mobile apps with the accessibility of the web, PWAs offer a unique and convenient user experience. Unlike traditional apps, PWAs can be easily accessed through a web browser, eliminating the need for app store visits, purchases, or local software downloads.
PWAs leverage standard-based technologies and operate within a secure container accessible to anyone on the web. They possess the ability to utilise native mobile device features, send web push notifications, and even function offline. With their progressive downloading approach, PWAs provide a superior user experience compared to responsive websites.
However, it is important to acknowledge the downsides of PWAs as well. While they can leverage certain native device features, they may still have limitations compared to fully native apps. Additionally, PWAs rely on browser support, which means older devices or outdated browsers may not fully support their advanced web technologies. App store restrictions may also hinder their visibility and discoverability. Furthermore, as web-based applications, PWAs are susceptible to web vulnerabilities and security threats, though proper security measures can mitigate these risks.
In the ever-evolving landscape of app development, it is crucial to make informed decisions and choose the app type that best fits the needs of your business and audience. Consider factors such as development resources, target audience, desired functionalities, and performance requirements. While PWAs offer compelling advantages in terms of cross-platform compatibility, cost-effectiveness, and enhanced user experiences, they may not be the optimal choice for every situation.
By evaluating the specific pros and cons of progressive web applications, businesses can determine whether a PWA aligns with their goals and user expectations. Whether it’s a PWA, a hybrid app combining web and native components, or a fully native app, making an informed decision ensures that the chosen app type delivers the desired results and meets the needs of both the business and its users.