The Promise of Progressive Web Applications
Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) could dramatically change the application landscape. They combine the best things about the web with the best things about native applications, allowing you to build rich web applications that can live on a user’s device and take advantage of native functionality.
In a nutshell, Progressive Web Apps are sites that can self-install on your device. It makes it possible to fully or incrementally offline an app onto your device.
The Chrome team has made big investments in this technology with their Service Worker and Web App Manifest specifications. And as of April of this year, Apple quietly added support for these two specs as well. That means that, with some limitations, progressive web applications are ready for prime time.
Benefits of Progressive Web Applications
They are responsive.
PWAs work on any device. While universal applications have addresses the issue of designing or different device types to a degree, you still have to deal with different platforms (android vs. iOS vs web). PWAs hold the potential to address this.
They work offline.
One feature of PWAs is “service workers”, which allow for offline connectivity. For field sales teams or other situations where there is low (or no) connectivity, PWAs will be able to function where web apps can’t.
They feel like native apps.
A big part of the appeal of native applications are the interactions and navigational concepts that have emerged. PWAs have similar functionality, allowing your app to have the same fast, responsive feedback and microinteractions for users.
PWAs also can access various functionality at the device level. This includes things like geolocation, the accelerometer and other sensors, the camera and audio, Apple Pay, and more.
Simpler growth hooks.
DI thinks a lot about how the growth hooks you can leverage inside of products to drive distribution, retention and referral.
PWAs have the potential to be more discoverable via search engines. For anyone who’s good at SEO and who knows the costs of mobile app installs, this could be a boon. Housing.com was able to drop its user acquisition costs on Android from $3.75 to just 7 cents.
PWAs also have less friction for registration and onboarding since they are easily shared with a URL (which also assists in referral). And since they can take advantage of native functionality like push notifications, they can facilitate a retention loop and make it more likely you can build user habits.
Your speed through the build-measure-learn loop is critical to getting from your initial product to a product that users love. Since there is no submission process, updates are available immediately. This also means that companies could publish internal applications for their employees without having to distribute through the app store.
You can also upgrade your existing web applications to PWAs, which saves you a ton of money vs. building native app experiences. While this probably isn’t a replacement for your mobile apps for consumer products, for internal enterprise applications it might make a lot of sense.
Limitations of Progressive Web Applications
There are still limitations to PWAs. On iOS, you can only store files up to 50MB offline. They can’t access some device-level functionality like Bluetooth, Face ID, AR Kit, etc. They aren’t able to run in the background, and they don’t have any access to user information stored on a device (like contacts or app passwords).
Android has more functionality – you can store larger files, you can access bluetooth, leverage push notifications and more.
That said, many of these limitations are likely to change in the next 12 months. PWA support was extremely spotty 12 months ago.
Progressive Web App Examples and Success Stories
The success stories for PWAs are early, but compelling.
- George.com saw a 31% increase in mobile conversion and 2x lower bounce rate.
- Bookmyshow.com increased conversions by 80%.
- Twitter Lite increased engagement by 65%, while using only 3% of the device storage space.
- The Weather Channel had over 1 million users opt into push notifications and saw an 80% decrease in load time.
Start Building PWAs today
For any organization with a large field operation, or people gathering data in locations with unreliable connections, PWAs can be a fast and effective way to increase efficiency. And for everyone else, PWAs hold promising potential to create more engagement and drive increased conversions.