A Guide To Progressive Web Apps (PWA) For Beginners

Designing and developing applications for your customers is an excellent way to improve the customer experience. Countless businesses have built apps that make it easier for users to take advantage of certain features and services that are more difficult to access through their website. For example, while you could visit the Yelp website on your mobile phone, you would find that downloading their app would result in a smoother experience. However, there have long been limitations to developing apps. For one thing, mobile apps have to be downloaded, requiring device space, and someone would have to want to have access bad enough to consider downloading it in the first place.

It used to be that the most effective way to develop an app was to develop a native app, which is designed for a specific operating system (such as iOS or Android). This is no longer the case. A new type of app was created not long ago and is being more and more widely accepted as the best way to develop an app. This new type of app is called a PWA (progressive web app).

What Is A Progressive Web App (PWA)?

A PWA is a web app that’s accessible to users no matter what device they’re using. It can be accessed through the company’s website; however, unlike traditional websites, a PWA provides the usability of a native app. Essentially, it combines the best of both worlds by offering a full website experience while integrating the interface design and features of a native app.

Principles Of A PWA

If you’re unfamiliar with PWAs, the first question you might have is how exactly does a PWA differ at all from the regular website experience? The use of a native app’s interface may make it more user-friendly, but wouldn’t it also make it a bit more limited than a traditional website experience? Some of the core principles of a PWA that give it an advantage over both web apps and native apps follow:

Not Deployed To The App Store

Native apps have to be downloaded to be used. This requires users to go to the app store and download the app to their phone before they can use it. There are a lot of potential roadblocks to the process of downloading the app that can displease your audience.

Like previously mentioned, native apps take up precious space. Your users will need to want the app bad enough to download it. It’s also inconvenient having to search for the app in the app store and then wait for it to download. Finally, many users may never even realize that you have an app available for download in the first place that could help to improve their customer experience.

PWAs are instantly accessible through the user’s Internet browser, so they don’t have to download the app from the app store. It’s more convenient and they won’t have to sacrifice space on their phones. If the user wants to install the PWA to their device so that they can access it without going through their browser, they can do so from the website instead of the app store.

Offline Support

Although an Internet connection is required to access websites, PWAs are unique in that users can choose to install them on their devices. Doing so takes up some space, but significantly less space than a native app would take up (almost 90 percent less space in some cases). By installing the PWA directly on your device, you’ll be able to access the app and use its core features even without an Internet connection.

Secure

PWAs are much more secure than traditional websites. This is because PWAs must be served over a secure network, meaning that the developer has to obtain an SSL certificate. HTTPS protocol requires that any sensitive data that users supply through the PWA be encrypted. This means that even if the data were to be stolen, sensitive information (such as names, email addresses, and credit card information) would be almost impossible to obtain.

Immersive, Full-Screen User Experience

Native apps tend to have a user interface that’s much easier to navigate than traditional websites. They’re more immersive and more seamless, which is why users take the time to download them. Websites can sometimes be clunky and difficult to navigate, especially on mobile devices (even if they were built using a responsive design). A PWA is capable of providing the same immersive and seamless user experience that a native app offers. The easier your app is to use, the more likely your users are to actually use it. Convenience and ease of use can help to drive conversions.

Why You Should Build One

There are many reasons why you should consider developing a PWA. The core principles and common characteristics of a PWA are significant benefits in themselves. But the main reason why you should build a PWA is because it will improve your customer experience. PWAs are easy to access, whether users are visiting your site online or choose to install your PWA on their device. They are easier to use due to their user-friendly interface, they can be used despite lacking an Internet connection, and they offer a seamless experience, so going from page to page won’t require users to wait while pages load.

Your brand will be more accessible and will offer users more convenience through a PWA, which already makes it a worthwhile investment. But the big payoff is you’ll likely result in more conversions.

Characteristics Of A PWA

The core principles of a PWA should have given you a better understanding of what a PWA is and what it has to offer, but let’s delve into the characteristics of a PWA to give you a better idea of how they work and why they are so beneficial:

Progressive

PWAs are progressive, which means users will be able to access your PWA regardless of what browser they’re using (such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or any other browser). Since access to your PWA isn’t limited to certain browsers, you’ll greatly expand your potential reach.

Responsive

PWAs are built using a responsive design. Their interface is displayed on the user’s screen and their performance in general won’t be affected by the device being used. PWAs will function properly on all devices including desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.

Connectivity Dependent

While you’ll need a connection to access a PWA through a browser, the fact that you can download the PWA to your device means that you do not need a connection to run the PWA from your device.

App-like

The interface of a PWA is very much like what you would expect from a native app downloaded from the app store, yet it can be viewed directly on a browser. Foregoing the usual website interface for that of a native app helps to streamline its function, making it easier to use.

Fresh

One of the biggest advantages that a PWA has over a native app is that it can deliver fresh content on a regular basis without requiring an update. In this way, a PWA is very similar to a website. Any updates that you make to your PWA will automatically occur on the user side, which means that they don’t have to worry about downloading additional updates like you have to do with native apps.

Safe

PWAs do not need app store approval since they can be offered directly through a website, and they tend to be incredibly safe for users as a result of the HTTPS requirements.

Discoverable

PWAs can be discovered by users in a similar fashion as traditional websites. This means that users can find your PWA through search engine queries since they are benchmarked with standard SEO. Search engines like Google will index your PWA based on your app name as well as the content included in your PWA.

Re-engageable

You can use your PWA to re-engage users even if they aren’t running your app through their browser or device. For example, you can send real-time alerts to your audience through your PWA. You can also use a “save to home screen” feature to launch your PWA from the home screen. The ability to re-engage users in such a manner can help you keep your brand on the top of your users’ minds.

Installable

Native apps have to be approved to be listed on an app store. This process can be tedious, especially if your app is rejected. It also requires users to leave your website and visit the app store to download the app. Simply navigating the app store for your app can hinder the user experience in itself. With a PWA, you can download the app straight from your browser without leaving the site.

Linkable

You can point users to your PWA using URLs. This makes your PWA even easier for your audience to find. The fact that they are linkable is what makes them so discoverable.

PWAs and Hybrid Apps Vs. Mobile Apps

We’ve mentioned some of the main differences and advantages that a PWA has over a native app (mobile app). The biggest difference is arguably that a native app takes up more space and has to be downloaded from an app store to be used. It also has to be updated on the user’s side whenever you make changes to it. None of this is the case with a PWA. Native apps must also be built for specific operating systems. PWAs can be used by anyone, no matter what operating system, browser, or device they’re using.

However, PWAs and native apps are not your only options. There’s a type of app called the hybrid app. Like a PWA, a hybrid app takes elements from both web apps and native apps. Yet, PWAs still have the following advantages over hybrid apps:

Hybrid apps can only be downloaded from the app store.

PWA apps are more easily customizable than hybrid apps.

Hybrid apps require both web app and native app development skills as well as the knowledge of several languages, which makes hybrid app development more expensive.

Requirements For A PWA

There are several requirements for developing and deploying a PWA. Fortunately, these requirements are easy to adhere to.

HTTPs

To ensure the security of a PWA, it must be deployed through a public web server following HTTPS protocol. The reason why HTTPS is required is because only HTTPS websites can use Service Workers.

Service Workers

To be considered a PWA, it must be able to work offline. This requires a Service Worker, which is a JavaScript file that acts as a liaison between your app and the network. As the middleman, the Service Worker will improve the user experience of your app by providing cache services and speeding up app rendering. The Service Worker can only be installed after a user visits the app for the first time.

Web App Manifest

The Web App Manifest is a JSON file used to provide user devices with information about your PWA. This information includes the name of your app, the locations and sizes of your icons, the starting URL, the splash screen, and the default orientation.

Example Applications

Learning what a PWA is and how it differs from native apps, hybrid apps, and web apps will give you a much better understanding of how beneficial they can be. However, the best way to learn about a PWA’s benefits is by seeing them in action. These are a few examples of some of the most effective PWAs currently being used by some of the biggest brands in the world:

  • Twitter Lite – Twitter is one of the biggest social media channels in the world with arguably the most mobile users (roughly 80 percent of their users are on mobile). To create a more engaging user experience, they launched their Twitter Lite PWA in 2017. Twitter Lite requires only three percent of the original app’s storage space. The ability to send push notifications has massively influenced reengagement. According to a recent case study published by Google Developers, around 250,000 Twitter users engage with Twitter Lite directly from their home screens four times a day.
  • AliExpress – If you’re not familiar with Alibaba, it’s one of the biggest e-commerce businesses in the world. Think of it as a Chinese version of Amazon. Their original app failed to engage mobile consumers. It was only when they developed their PWA, called AliExpress, that they saw massive success in the mobile market. It resulted in users visiting twice as many pages per browsing session, while time spent on their website per user session increased by a whopping 74 percent.
  • Tinder – Tinder is one of the most popular dating apps on the market. The Tinder app has been around for some time now, but it was only recently that they launched a PWA version of their app. Like their native apps, their PWA provides push notifications and retains all of their original features and functionality. However, the original app took up a significant amount of space. The PWA takes up only 10 percent of what their original app required.
  • Starbucks – Starbucks is one of the biggest brands to demonstrate the potential of a PWA. Their PWA allows users to access a number of features in offline mode, including their menu, the ability to customize orders, and the ability to manage their cart. This has drastically improved their user experience and has resulted in them doubling the number of their users.
  • Forbes – Forbes is a good example of how a PWA can help drive engagement with content. Their PWA makes it easier to deliver highly visual content, provide push notifications for new content, and provide off-line reading capabilities for users. According to Forbes, the success of their PWA led to power users doubling the amount of time they spent engaging with Forbes content, while casual users were three times longer than before.

Get Started Today

User experience is vital to your online presence, whether it’s how you deliver content to your users or how convenient your e-commerce store is for your customers. Many companies develop and deploy apps to help improve the customer experience; however, there are many ways to go about this, such as web apps, native apps, and hybrid apps. But it’s the progressive web app that’s arguably the best of them all. A PWA allows you to combine the best of what native apps and web apps have to offer without any of their drawbacks. By offering your audience a PWA, you’ll be able to provide a faster, more reliable, and more engaging user experience. You’ll see a significant increase in user engagement, leading to more conversions and more purchases.

Do you need assistance in creating a Progressive Web App (PWA)? Contact our team of experts!