PWAs – What They Are and Why You Need One

Alex Di Guida

At GearedApp we are always keen to test the latest technologies. This is certainly no exception with our latest tech obsession, Progressive Web Apps (PWA) – a new dimension in the world of apps.
You may have heard the news this week that Gmail is set to provide offline access to users by becoming a PWA. With other recognisable brand names such as Twitter, Flipboard and the Washington Post also taking advantage of this technology, you might be wondering – what is a PWA and why might you want one?

First we had websites, then we had apps, then web apps, and now PWAs; which in many ways combine the best of their benefits! You may be thinking “Oh great, another platform I have to think about”. Well, we’ve done the hard work for you and put together our thoughts on PWAs and when you should consider building them, and we have to admit we are very excited about the possibilities.

What is a Progressive Web Application?

In a nutshell, PWAs provide an app experience,using the latest web technologies, without the need to download through an app store. What we love the most about this is that users are able to glide straight from Google search into your app, without finding themselves clumsily redirected to an app store where “every step you make a user perform before they get value out of your app will cost you 20% of users”- Gabor Cselle

In a world where having both a web and mobile presence is increasingly expected, this is a big step forward. To date, there have been many solutions and different technologies available for building apps and websites, but if you want to build both at once you may come across a few stumbling blocks.. Building for multiple platforms is not only costly, but it can also involve a long development process before you can see any results.
PWAs could be the answer to this problem, allowing you to launch across mobile and web at the same time!

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What Makes It so Great?

PWAs allow you to take advantage of the best bits of web apps and native apps in one platform. They are becoming more and more popular for companies that want to increase market visibility through new tools.
With Android already supporting PWAs and Apple iOS’ gradual increasing support for this new platform, If you want that competitive edge you should definitely consider developing a PWA.

One of the most impressive factors of PWAs is that, unlike a standard web app, they are able to be used offline. This means that even if you have bad internet connection, the site can still be used and accessed through cached data until a better internet connection is available.

Of course, there are many other benefits to PWAs:

  • One codebase to maintain going forward for all your platforms
  • Launch to both Apple and Android users with one platform
  • Users can find your content easily straight from Google – no need for clunky re-routes to an App Store
  • The ability to quickly add the app to your home screen which loads instantly!
  • Faster updates – No waiting for users to install latest app versions through an App Store
  • Fewer visitor drop-offs – With an instant load and a cache management system, say goodbye to slow loading that put users off
  • No impact from Apple/Google play updates (and required maintenance surrounding these)
  • PWAs do not need to go through App Store reviews
  • Easy to distribute – just share a link!
woman_macbook_mockup_psd2

Is This the Right Option for You?

This is the best type of platform to consider developing if…

  • You are looking to launch and efficiently maintain a product on multiple platforms at the same time, e.g. desktop, phone or tablet.
  • Your resources are tight.
  • The focus of your app is accessing/reading content and browsing data.
  • Your app requires displaying information to users, simple calculations or forms, and does not require functions that rely heavily on the phone/device hardware (see more on this below).

A couple of examples where a PWA could be used

Restaurants

  • Allows for quick access to menus (enables for browsing when waiting on tables)
  • Menus can be updated when needed (expected semi-regularly)
  • Let customers make their own table bookings

Events

  • Users visiting the event site for a fixed period of time (usually experience limited internet signal)
  • Provide a web version of the event itinerary
  • Keep visitors updated on schedule changes

What PWAs Can and Can’t Access

The main limitation of PWAs is that there are still limits as to what hardware features they can access. Therefore in some instances, a native app might still be the best route for you.
PWA hardware integration has come a long way and, although they can’t access all of phone/tablet features that native apps can, you’d be surprised at what can now be achieved. Here is an overview of what is currently possible:

  • Camera/Microphone
  • Push Messages/Notifications
  • Vibration
  • Geolocation
  • File Access
  • Offline Mode
  • Local Notification
  • Full Screen
  • Presentation Features
  • Battery status
  • Network Type/Speed
  • Bluetooth
  • Contacts
  • Wake Lock
  • Ambient Light
  • Fingerprint Scanner
  • Proximity Sensor
  • NFC

Our Comments on PWAs

PWAs are an exciting progression for the app world. This new approach will likely grow in popularity as the technology improves, and we can see PWAs becoming a standard practice in the future!

Native apps still have their place. When it comes to reliability and providing the optimum native mobile experience, we feel going native is still the ideal solution, if you have the resources available to build them. But we predict that developers will increasingly start to use a combination of web and native technologies, depending on the situation, which is very exciting!
PWAs used to be just an experimental technology, but are now maturing and we can’t wait for this tech to evolve and improve over time. Get in touch if you want to find out more about the future of apps, or to see if a PWA might be the right choice for your next project!

More about Progressive Web Apps

Apple’s refusal to support PWA is a detriment to future of the web

Google Developers, Progressive Web Apps

Alex Russell, Google Engineer, Progressive Web Apps: Escaping Tabs Without Losing Our Soul

What web can do ? (PWA = web technologies)