When (and why) you need to give progressive web apps a chance
19 April 2021 • 3 min read
You need an app, right? That’s one of the most common requests we get at AND Digital from our clients – and it’s easy to see why.
Almost two-thirds (61%) of internet users rely on mobile devices. But 40% also abandon slow websites within three seconds. So, what’s the best way to speed up your online experiences on mobile devices?
The divided mobile world
You can get mobile content in one of two ways – apps or websites. Neither is an ideal solution:
Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) bridge the gap – using modern web capabilities to deliver an app-like user experience.
Enter the Progressive Web App
A PWA is a simple concept. A user goes to a website, installs the PWA and an icon appears on the homescreen, so they can revisit the PWA with one tap.
A PWA is:
- ‘Apparently’ fast: your pages load quickly and any user interactions trigger a visual response. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes though, keeping your PWA running even for slow internet connections.
- Responsive: PWAs work across every screen size, providing users with a consistent experience.
- Installable: a PWA runs on its own window and is stored as an icon, making it easy to access and use.
- Offline first: some offline functionality can be supported, including a simple branded message or your most recent/popular content.
- Secure and SEO: PWAs run over HTTPS, minimising the risk of man-in-the-middle attacks. They are also great for SEO and you only have a single code base to manage.
Why isn’t every app a PWA?
Native apps only need to be supported on one or a limited number of operating systems. But PWAs need to be supported across a broader range of devices and platforms, introducing a lot of issues. To resolve this, we need to crack:
- Basic offline support: where a user can still access some functionality.
- Push notifications: so the PWA can interact with the user.
- Background sync: to keep the PWA up-to-date and responsive.
- APIs: certain APIs don’t work consistently well with PWAs. For example, Bluetooth connections and wake lock to stop your screen from turning off. But a solid API foundation is important - helping businesses connect their technologies and provide a consistent UX. Interestingly, web payment APIs are fine across the board – a plus given the recent rise in digital commerce.
These issues exist, mainly on Safari, because WebKit - the browser engine behind Safari - is reluctant to adopt features that make something called ‘web fingerprinting’ easier. Web fingerprinting aggregates information about a user across devices and/or browsers, even when cookies are disabled.
Why bother with PWAs?
A PWA can give users a snapshot of your business, aiding conversion. There are also plenty of PWA success stories out there. Spotify and Asda and Nikkei have all increased the number of users and interactions following the launch of their PWAs.
Is a PWA right for your business?
“If your app relies on bleeding edge APIs that Webkit says it will not support in the near future, you can kiss goodbye to a PWA,” according to Sam. “But a PWA can still provide you with a gateway to introduce new users to your business.”
To achieve this, AND uses feature detection and progressive enhancement to give users access to the most immersive experience possible:
“If you are going to choose a PWA you should target everyone for the core user journeys and if you can't do this with a PWA - then you'll need to choose a primary platform that can target everyone,” Sam explained. “But the main point is to make each user journey the best it can be.”
At AND Digital, we’re building PWAs for everyone. To find out more and how your business could benefit, get in touch with us here