The mobile app development sector has grown to include not only native apps but also web apps and progressive web apps. These progressive web applications or PWAs are gaining recognition throughout the tech industry as digitization spreads, and people turn to the internet for all their solutions.
Progressive web apps deliver exceptional, native-like experience, combining the best of web and mobile apps. For startups and enterprises, they provide a boost in return on investment, across almost all metrics.
That begs the question, how do these progressive applications compare with native and hybrid apps native and hybrid apps and traditional web apps. What is the future of web apps and mobile apps if progressive web apps are adopted across all markets?
If you’re looking into progressive web app development, you need to know about PWAs to understand whether they are worth the investment:
What are Progressive Web Applications?
In simple terms, progressive web applications are built with web technologies like the best web apps and websites, but they work like native mobile apps. Thus, mobile apps and progressive apps share similar features, but with a few significant differences that set them apart.
Where mobile apps need to be installed before using, progressive apps are accessible to the user directly via the web. It loads quicker than even the best web applications, supports push notifications, has a home screen icon, and offers an immersive interface.
Plus, since it is built using web technologies, it is treated as any other website, making it indexable and accessible via the web. It also means that it is platform-independent that users can access from iOS, Android, or Windows operating systems.
Additionally, progressive web applications are reliable, fast, and engaging. They have shorter load time, regardless of your internet connection, allow smooth interactions and immersive user experience.
Characteristics of Progressive Web Apps
We know the best progressive web apps are much like native mobile apps when it comes to user experience. But how alike are they? What differentiates them from mobile websites?
Here are a few characteristics you’ll find in some of the top progressive mobile web apps:
While some of the best web apps exist in the market, not all of them are compatible with every browser. It limits the choice of browser available to users.
Conversely, the progressive feature of PWAs ensures they are not only accessible but also function efficiently, irrespective of users’ browsers. That said, progressive web applications enhance the mobile web experience.
The best progressive web apps are also built to be responsive. Like mobile responsive websites, they are designed in a way that they adjust to different screen sizes, including smartphones, tablets, and desktops. Meaning, unlike web apps, progressive apps do not limit a user to one device and operating system.
Another advantage of progressive web apps against websites is that they can work without an internet connection. It allows users to access essential app functions even in a low connectivity zone, enhancing the mobile experience.
Top web apps are more like websites, whereas progressive web apps are closer to native apps. They offer a native app experience for both Android and iOS with its app-like interactions and navigation. Their ability to function with low internet connectivity is also similar to native applications.
Progressive mobile web apps feature a service worker component that enables them to act like an app than a website. It works by allowing sites to download and retain cache files locally within the device.
The process is much similar to when you install a native application. With mobile apps, most of the content and supporting data is cached locally, which allows it to launch almost instantly.
Similarly, the first time a user accesses any of the best progressive web apps, the service worker works in the background, downloading the first view and other content. With the content stored on the device, the PWA appears to load much faster.
Additionally, through the whole process, the service worker component also updates the web app, ensuring that it is always up-to-date every time the user access it.
Innovations might offer convenience, but they also bring in possibilities of theft through cyberspace. Service worker requires that a website be available over a secure connection. Thus, the best progressive web apps are served via HTTPS, a security protocol that protects websites from hackers snooping in to steal data or tamper with content.
One advantage of native mobile apps is that they are available through app stores. But for progressive mobile web apps, things are a little different. The W3C manifests, and the service worker registration enables search engines to crawl these ‘applications,’ making them discoverable via the web browser.
Most websites and even top web apps do not allow brands to engage with their audience. But progressive web apps, on the other hand, are integrated with a push notification feature that will enable brands to re-engage with their users conveniently.
Another feature that differentiates progressive web apps from the best web applications is that PWAs are installable, minus a complicated installation process or need for an app store. While it is unnecessary to install them before using, the characteristic enables them to keep their favorites at easy access.
The progressive web apps are also easily shareable via a URL link. Instead of a complicated installation, users can share mobile web apps with friends and family.
In light of these characteristics, it is evident that progressive applications are an enhanced version of existing mobile web apps. While they are similar in function to native mobile apps, they are packaged, much like websites and the best web apps.
If a site originates from a secure origin, is served over TLS, can load offline, references a web app manifest, and has an icon, it may be considered a progressive web app.
PWAs Vs. Native Apps Vs. Hybrid Apps
Progressive web apps can’t be used as a replacement for mobile apps, native or hybrid. The ‘A’ in PWA is a little misleading because while they offer a similar user experience as native applications, they are not apps in appearance or performance.
That said, if your native mobile app meets the following criteria, then you don’t need to replace it with a progressive web app:
They address high-frequency use case, for example, financial services.
They leverage low-level device integrations that are not available with web technologies.
There is a need to boost security.
If native apps, referred to as vanity apps, do not offer these benefits, what purpose do they serve? In that case, progressive mobile web apps may serve you better.
Here’s a breakdown on how progressive web apps compare with other mobile apps:
UI/UX – Native applications are known for their aesthetically pleasing layouts, intuitive interfaces, exceptional performance. Conversely, progressive apps may be first-class knock-offs offering a similar look and feel like native apps, but of a different level.
Compatibility – Native apps are platform-dependent, whereas PWAs can function independently of the platform and device.
Development costs – One development team can create PWAs, while separate teams must build native apps for each platform.
Time to market – Since progressive apps have a shorter and faster development process, they offer a quicker time to market than native apps.
Shareability – Native apps are available only on app stores, whereas PWAs are shareable via a link.
Promotion – While PWAs are SEO-friendly, native apps require additional advertising.
PWAs Vs. Mobile Web Apps
More than mobile web apps against native apps, a better comparison would be between progressive web apps and mobile web. As characteristics of PWAs highlight, they are an enhancement of the standard mobile web.
Here are a few ways progressive apps compare against regular mobile web apps:
While both web applications are built on web technologies, even the best web apps do not offer the same user experience as progressive web apps. PWAs provide a native-like experience with access to device features that are not available on the web.
PWAs also do not require a longer load time. Plus, they are shareable via a URL link, which cuts down the installation process, allowing users to access the application much faster than other mobile apps.
Unlike standard web apps, progressive web apps can be installed on the home screen with their native app-like icons that allow easy access.
PWAs help improves brand SEO. Since they are discoverable via the web, they act as an additional channel for marketers and SEO executives to boost their brand visibility on search engines.
With PWA, brands can send push notifications, which allows interactions beyond the browser and maintains user engagement.
The Future of Progressive Web Apps
In a nutshell, while progressive app development may not replace native app development, the future of web apps is still a bright one.
Progressive web apps are a cost-effective solution that provides a similar return on investment as native apps, including user engagement, retention, increased conversions, and user experience. Thus, they are a smart investment if you want to make your mobile debut on a limited budget.
So, do you want to launch your brand on the mobile platform? Reach out for a consultation, and our web technology experts will help bring your ideas to life!