Do Progressive Web Apps mean that it's the end of the road for the development of native apps?
PWAs are technologically a collection of modern web tools that allow a better user experience on a mobile website. What are known as service workers, for example, allow users to experience the app without interruption whilst of the website carries out its work unobtrusively in the background. With the use of a what are known as a web manifest, a PWA website can be stored in the form of an icon (as with a native app) by the user on their own smartphone. Below, Khoa Nguyen explains the benefits and challenges for users and providers.
What are the benefits of PWAs for their users?
1. Search engines can search</strong> the content of a PWA
In simple terms, a PWA is just a web page, which has the advantage of being accessible from any browser. Search engines (such as Google) can therefore include and index their content in their searches. This means that the content of the app appears during a search on Google and so it already generates user traffic or conversion rates, without the user having to be laboriously transferred to the app, as in the case of a native app.
2. The same performance as a native mobile app
Amongst other things, PWAs use an advanced caching and offline storage methodology to store static content on the device, which results in significantly faster web page load times. In addition, initial content on the page can already be displayed until all of the data is synchronised in the background. The significantly faster loading time means that the app content is ultimately rewarded with a higher relevance ranking even for search engines.
3. The need to go through an app store is eliminated
A user can use a PWA without having to install it first. However, the app can still be stored on the smartphone and can be used there like an installed mobile app. Today, the constraint of installing an app still causes users to do without an app for rarely used features. PWA technology eliminates this barrier.
What are the benefits of PWA for providers?
PWA technology is platform independent. This means that one or more linked PWAs can be developed and offered as synchronised on the basis of a website.
1. Development and maintenance expense is reduced
As PWA technology is platform-independent, the cost of PWAs can be greatly reduced. When a website is updated, all of the PWAs are automatically synchronised with the latest content and the elaborate maintenance of outdated app versions is eliminated.
2. Access to the device hardware
Access to hardware functions such as the camera, microphone, gyroscope or GPS localisation was previously only possible using native app technologies. Recently, however, this has also become possible using browser interfaces. This does not restrict the development of the PWA and offers fresh opportunities for new functionalities.
Does it make sense at this stage to rely on PWA technology in every case?
No, although the use of the technology has already shown advantages in many new developments, it is worth considering the use of the new technology on a case-by-case basis. There are still areas where the technology should not be used. This category includes in particular high-performance apps, i.e., apps that rely on specifically manufactured hardware components, such as games and AR experiences. For these, implementation using native technology or the development of a hybrid app, such as Cordova, is still recommended. In the case of apps with an informative character, the use of PWA technology is already worthwhile. This category includes news apps as well as advice and guidance apps. For example, a cooking app, a property app or an event app can be developed very well as a PWA. Migros already relies on PWA technology at Grilletarier.ch and allows the website to be used in a browser and even as an app.
What influences are there on the further development of PWA?
If you look at the availability of PWA technology among the major browser manufacturers, you can see an unequal spread of the technology. In particular, the Safari browser does not yet provide important PWA functionality. This hesitant behaviour by Apple, however, shows all the more the relevance and importance of the technology, as it can be assumed that Apple sees its App Store business model threatened by PWA technology.
PWA offers many advantages over traditional websites and native apps for both users and providers. Because of this, many of today’s native apps are expected to disappear from the app store in the medium term and then reappear as PWAs.