8 reasons to develop a progressive web app

While native apps were once the be-all and end-all of mobile, there's a new contender on the block: PWAs

Tim Gouw (CC0)

You just have to look around you to see people everywhere browsing the internet through various devices. There’s an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide now browsing the internet just through their mobile, that doesn’t include people who use other devices like tablets. With that number set to increase sevenfold between now and 2021, businesses now cannot afford to dismiss mobile and tablet internet usage.

However, traditional mobile responsive websites have a significant Achilles Heel: their load times. A study by Google found that over half of consumers will abandon a website after just three seconds. Speed is clearly of the essence, and making it easy for consumers to access your content is even more important. You can understand, therefore, why many businesses saw apps as a way to engage with potential customers in a quick and relatively effective way.

It used to be said that there was an app for everything, but the general public quickly fell out of love with them once they realized the amount of storage space traditional apps take up in our devices.

Luckily, there is now a hybrid of both apps and websites, known as a progressive web app (PWA) and it is a growing technology that some say is the future of the internet.

What is a PWA?

In basic terms, a PWA is a type of mobile app that is delivered via the internet. It offers the benefits of an app-like experience through a browser. Navigating and using a PWA should feel just like using a native app on a device—but without the downsides of a native app itself.

PWAs are still relatively under the radar, but are gaining recognition within the industry. A recent article from Gartner Research Director Jason Wong stated that it wasn’t a matter of if you use a PWA, but when. That’s some pretty strong wording. So what makes PWAs so attractive and why, as a business leader, should you be using them?

1. PWAs are not tied to an app store

Remember that song the Disney character Pinocchio once sang about having no strings? The same applies to PWAs. They aren’t tied to any app store, which holds many benefits for businesses (and your developers).

Your developers can completely skip past the app stores and all the red tape that can involve. Because PWAs are simply hosted on a web server, your developers just have to build one version of the app and then deploy. They no longer have to follow Android and iOS rules, build different versions for each app store, and go through a longwinded approval process. Furthermore, your developers won’t need to update a PWA manually, as any revisions are instantly available to everyone (more on that later).

This means a lot of time and resource savings for your business and a faster time to market for your app.

2. PWAs are device-agnostic

Not so long ago, we were lucky to even have a desktop computer at home. Now, we use a plethora of devices on a daily basis, from our laptops and tablets to our phones. The way we browse the internet has also changed, with consumers consuming online content on the bus to work, at the office, during their lunch break, during TV ad breaks in the evening, and so on. We are a hyper-connected, constantly–on-the-go society, and PWAs tap into this mentality perfectly.

Because PWAs are hosted online, they work across all devices. They also offer the same user experience regardless of what device an individual may be using. You could use a PWA on your tablet, then switch halfway through to your phone and you won’t notice any difference between each experience. Not only does this make a PWA easier and more pleasant to use, but it also helps your overall brand image remain consistent.

3. PWAs don’t take up space

Speaking of user experience, your customers will be happier using a PWA as well. Thanks to being hosted on a web server, PWAs don’t take up as much space on devices as traditional apps do. However, users can choose to install a PWA on their device homepage, making it as accessible as a traditional app but without the storage or manual update issues.

4. PWAs are speedy

Remember that stat about people leaving mobile websites? You don’t have that issue with PWAs. BY their very nature, they have a fast load time. Even better, PWAs can work offline or on flaky network connections. Service workers do the legwork behind-the-scenes with a PWA, meaning it loads almost instantly and this also mitigates any connectivity issues.

Pre-caching also keeps the PWA up to date. Your customers will always get the latest content delivered as soon as they open the PWA, along with any developer updates.

5. PWAs can engage more effectively

As opposed to mobile websites which a consumer has to make an effort to visit, a PWA can be installed on a home screen for easy access. This makes them more likely to use it more often. Furthermore, PWAs have a push notification functionality just like a traditional app, meaning you can re-engage any customers who have stopped interacting with your app.

6. PWAs don’t take ages to download

Another benefit of not being tied to a specific app store comes in the form of improved download times. Instead of having to find the app in an app store, wait for it to download, install it and then finally open it, with a PWA a user can begin interacting with your app right from the start. PWAs drastically cut down the number of steps a consumer has to undergo in order to download and use it. That means there’s less steps where your customer could potentially abandon using your app.

7. PWAs can be shared easily

Word of mouth can be extremely powerful and PWAs make sharing your app ridiculously simple. A PWA can be shared through a URL. This also means that anyone can launch your app directly through a URL. Because of this, you can spread your PWA through social media, email, SMS, online advertising, or even QR codes.

8. PWAs have better SEO

If the increased marketability of PWAs via social media et al. hasn’t convinced you, then this probably will: PWAs have better SEO than traditional apps. They can be easily indexed by search engines, in greater detail than a native app. This means they are more likely to appear in search results, and considering that 60 percent of searches now occur on mobile devices, this makes PWAs very powerful indeed.

Returning once again, to Gartner’s great approval of PWAs, Wong later stated in his piece that, “It’s only a matter of time before PWAs become the new standard for web interactions, just as responsive design has become the norm rather than the exception.”

Business leaders, therefore, don’t just need to sit up and take notice of PWAs, you need to implement them in your mobile internet strategy now, before the competition catches up.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.