October 30, 2023
App Development
Reading Time
6 min

Mobile App Development Series: Progressive Web Apps

Progressive web apps (PWAs) offer a good balance between ROI and customer experience - as long as the project is a good fit.
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For some businesses, progressive web apps (PWAs) are the way to go. They offer a good balance between ROI and customer experience - as long as the project is a good fit.

Establishing a mobile presence isn’t an option anymore.

It’s a requirement for companies that want to stay competitive in an increasingly connected world.

Even small businesses benefit from the increase in traffic that comes from making a good mobile impression. The question of “if” has now shifted to “how”.

A New Take on Mobile

The push for mobile solutions has inspired several different approaches.

Mobile websites are the easiest to set up. A company’s existing web page is simply made responsive to adjust to a more mobile-friendly format which user access through the browser.

This involves rearranging navigation, increasing text size, loading smaller or fewer images, and more.

It’s easier and cheaper than other options, but that simplicity comes at the cost of customer experience.

Native apps provide the best customer experience from a usage angle. They’re downloadable programs independent of the browser.

Because native apps are specific to each device, they can provide the exact use conventions customers expect.

Building for every device can be expensive, though, and customers aren’t always willing to download another app.

Hybrid apps and PWAs exist in the middle ground between these extremes. Hybrid apps are essentially a native “wrapper’ with a web app inside.

The same web app can then be used for different devices.

Progressive web apps take the opposite approach: they’re apps that are hosted on a sponsoring website and accessed through the browser.

There’s nothing to download, but the app can still access some device features to offer a better user experience.

PWA Benefits

  1. High-Quality User Experience: PWAs can very nearly match native apps when it comes to user experience, providing seamless navigation and intuitive interface designs.
  2. Cross-Platform Compatibility: PWAs operate on multiple platforms, ensuring a consistent experience; any browser that supports PWAs will run them effectively.
  3. Broadening Support: As of April 2018, even Microsoft started supporting PWAs, shrinking the list of holdouts and further bolstering their accessibility across different devices and browsers.
  4. Speed of Development: Developing PWAs is generally faster since a single app can serve multiple platforms, allowing companies to bring their product to market more quickly.
  5. Cost-Effectiveness: Companies can leverage their existing web developers for PWA development, avoiding the need for pricier and more in-demand mobile specialists. This makes the initial investment in PWAs generally lower.
  6. Ease of Maintenance: Maintenance for PWAs is relatively low compared to other mobile options. Unlike responsive websites, PWAs offer a superior level of user experience, yet they don't require separate updates or versions for different platforms.
  7. Centralized Updates: Any updates can be made centrally and pushed to all users instantly. This eliminates the need for users to download updates manually, making the maintenance process smoother for both developers and users.
  8. Low Friction for Users: One of the most appealing benefits is the low barrier to adoption. Users can start using the app simply by clicking a link and allowing the PWA to access the device's features, without any need for a download or lengthy setup process.
  9. SEO Benefits: Being web-based, PWAs are easier to optimize for search engines compared to native apps, offering potential advantages in terms of online visibility.
  10. Security: Served over HTTPS, PWAs offer a secure environment for users, ensuring data integrity and protection.
  11. Resource Efficiency: PWAs are generally lighter on system resources, making them more accessible to users with lower-end devices.
  12. Offline Capabilities: Service workers allow PWAs to work offline or in low-network conditions, making them more reliable and versatile.

PWA Limitations

Of course, this isn’t a perfect solution for all use cases.

  1. Limited Native Features: Although PWAs have made strides in matching the capabilities of native apps, they still lack full access to device-specific features like Bluetooth, NFC, and advanced camera controls.
  2. Browser Support: While the situation is improving, not all browsers fully support PWAs. This could limit the reach of your application depending on your target audience's preferred browsers.
  3. Limited Discoverability in App Stores: Unlike native apps, PWAs are not listed in traditional app stores like Google Play or Apple’s App Store, which could affect visibility and adoption rates.
  4. Storage Limitations: PWAs often have limitations when it comes to storage, which may not be sufficient for apps that need to handle a large amount of data locally.
  5. Potential for Increased Data Usage: Because PWAs run in browsers, they might consume more data than native apps that store resources locally, which could be a concern for users on limited data plans.
  6. No Background Operations: Unlike native apps, PWAs can't run processes in the background when the browser is closed, limiting their ability to perform certain tasks that native apps can do effortlessly.
  7. Less Fluid Animations: Although PWAs are closing the gap, native apps can still offer smoother animations and transitions, providing a slightly better user experience.
  8. Power Consumption: Running through a browser could make a PWA less efficient in terms of power usage compared to a native app optimized for specific device hardware.
  9. Security Concerns: While PWAs are generally secure because they run on HTTPS, the web-based nature makes them slightly more susceptible to security risks like cross-site scripting compared to native apps.
  10. Complex Offline Capabilities: While offline functionality is a benefit, building a PWA that works well offline can be more complex than creating a similar offline experience for a native app.
  11. User Skepticism: Since users are accustomed to native apps from app stores, they might initially be skeptical of the web-based nature of PWAs, potentially affecting adoption rates.
  12. Updates and Caching: While PWAs allow for easy updates, improper cache management can sometimes result in users seeing older versions of the app, leading to potential inconsistencies.

Weighing the Alternatives

Native apps

Native apps are a robust solution for high-performance demands and complete device integration. Developed specifically for individual operating systems, they offer a premium UI/UX experience characterized by smooth animations and quick load times. This level of optimization does, however, come with higher development and maintenance costs, as separate versions must be created and updated for each operating system.

Native apps share many features with PWAs such as offline access, push notifications, full-screen access, and the ability to create desktop icons. Despite these similarities, there are distinctions worth noting. While PWAs can be accessed and shared easily via a link or bookmark, they have some limitations when it comes to device features. Native apps have the upper hand in accessing a broader range of device capabilities like Near-Field Communication, light sensors, magnetoscope, and other advanced functionalities that PWAs currently cannot tap into.

Hybrid apps

Hybrid apps and PWAs can be said to be taking opposite approaches: one brings the web to an app and the other puts an app in the web.

Hybrid apps serve as a compromise between native and web-based solutions, designed to work across multiple platforms using a single codebase. This makes them more cost-effective and quicker to develop than native apps. They offer moderate device integration, allowing access to essential features like the camera, accelerometer, and other native functions. However, they come with their own limitations. Firstly, they require native wrappers to run, which adds an additional layer of complexity to their architecture. Secondly, their performance is generally good but not as optimized as native apps. The user experience can also be a mix, sometimes mimicking native behaviors closely, but often falling short of the seamless experience that native apps can offer.

Mobile web pages

For the most straightforward and universally accessible solution, mobile web pages fit the bill. They can be accessed from any browser, offering information and basic functionalities without the need for users to download anything. Development costs and timelines are generally the lowest for mobile web pages, making them a cost-effective solution for businesses. However, they come with a slew of limitations, most notably in terms of functionality and user experience.

Progressive web apps are the clear winner here. PWAs offer far more functionality and options to users than mobile pages.

Companies have increased load times by as much as 90% by switching to PWAs.

Making the Call

Mobile strategy, like all digital decisions, should be informed by business needs. PWAs can be developed quickly and on a tight budget.

They are the way to go if a company is fighting “app drop” and needs to encourage adoption.

However, if Apple users are the target market PWAs won’t be the right fit since they won’t run well on that OS.

Orlando Mobile App Development Company

Concepta, one of Orlando’s leading mobile development companies, works with clients of all sizes and budgets.

We know the value of a wide toolkit to help our partners overcome business challenges, grow sales, and improve internal processes.

Is a PWA the right choice for your company?

Schedule your free consultation to take advantage of Concepta’s years of experience in powering digital strategies.


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