After 20 years as an eCommerce development agency, PWAs (Progressive Web Apps) are quickly becoming one of the most popular services we’ve ever offered here at IWD.
As more and more companies have embraced them, it’s become obvious that PWAs are the future of the Internet – something Steve Jobs predicted well over a decade ago (which we cover in the video above).
But why have so many business owners invested in the power of PWAs?
That answer – and everything else you need to know about Progressive Web Apps – is below.
What Are Progressive Web Apps?
PWAs are websites that work, look, and feel like native apps
Or as Google puts it, “PWAs are modern websites that combine the massive reach of the web, combined with all the user-friendly features that users expect in Android, iOS, or desktop apps.”
PWAs vs. Native Apps
It’s impossible to describe Progressive Web Apps without mentioning their conventional alternative: Native Apps.
So, let’s make sure we define that important term, too.
What Are Native Apps?
Native apps are platform-specific, built using the native programming languages of the target platform (e.g., Swift/Objective-C for iOS, Java/Kotlin for Android).
This approach requires separate development for different platforms, resulting in multiple codebases. Users need to download and install native apps from app stores, and updates must be obtained from these stores as well.
Native apps can offer a seamless and immersive user experience, as they have direct access to the device's hardware and features. They can also function partially or fully offline, as they can store data locally on the device.
How PWAs Compare to Native Apps
They are designed to be platform-agnostic, running on any modern web browser, irrespective of the device or operating system.
Users do not need to download PWAs from app stores. They can access them through a URL just like a normal website. At the same time, users can add PWAs to the home screen for a more app-like feel.
They facilitate offline capabilities by intercepting network requests and caching crucial resources, enabling the app to function offline or in areas with poor connectivity.
So, Progressive Web Apps use these service workers so that they are automatically updated from the web server, ensuring users always have the latest version.
A Short History of PWAs
The story of Progressive Web Apps (can be traced back to a pivotal moment in tech history - the release of the iPhone by Steve Jobs in 2007.
During the iPhone's unveiling, Steve Jobs presented a groundbreaking vision for mobile app development that few people at the time fully appreciated.
He announced that developers wouldn't be able to create native iOS apps but instead encouraged them to build app-like websites on Safari for the iPhone.
If you watch the video, you’ll probably notice this was one of the few times a major Jobs announcement didn’t garner unbridled euphoria from the crowd.
In fact, almost no one clapped.
That’s because most developers were actually really looking forward to the opportunity to develop native apps.
Nevertheless, Apple eventually pivoted and introduced the iOS SDK (Software Development Kit), granting developers the power to do just that: build native apps for the iPhone.
The iOS SDK was an immediate success, downloaded over 100,000 times in only four days of its release. Apple's App Store, launched in 2008, further fueled the dominance of native apps, becoming a massive revenue generator for the company and setting the trend for the next decade.
And yet, despite the success of native apps, the idea of universal web-based apps never truly disappeared.
Some developers, reluctant to solely invest in native app development, pushed for the concept of responsive web design. Responsive web design allowed websites to adapt to different devices and screen sizes, setting the groundwork for the web-based app experience that Steve Jobs had envisioned years earlier.
In 2015, Google's Alex Russell, a senior staff software engineer, coined the term, "Progressive Web Apps."
He introduced the concept of PWAs as a new class of web pages that aimed to match native apps in responsiveness, discoverability, performance, and overall user experience.
But PWAs also had a unique characteristic: they could escape the confines of an Internet browser and jump to a user's device while still maintaining linkability, thanks to the use of service workers.
The following year, in 2016, Eric Bidelman, a Senior Developer Programs Engineer at Google, brought PWAs to the forefront during the Google I/O conference. This marked a significant moment in the evolution of PWAs, as it represented a full-fledged standard of web development advocated by Google.
11 Important Benefits of Progressive Web Apps
As PWAs continue to evolve, they combine the best features of traditional websites with those of native apps, providing an engaging and universal user experience. With their offline capabilities, platform-agnostic nature, and automatic updates, PWAs are here to stay, ensuring a bright future for web-based app experiences.
In short, amongst other things, the following are seven important benefits of PWAs.
1. Installed Directly on the User’s Device
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) can be installed directly on the user's device, whether it's a mobile, tablet, or desktop. They create a seamless experience by appearing as standalone apps, complete with their own branded icons, reducing the need to go through app stores for installation.
This installation process helps bridge the gap between web and native apps, providing users with convenient access to the app's features without the hassle of traditional app downloads.
2. PWAs Are Responsive
In a world where users engage with content through multiple channels, brands must rethink their approach to user experience. Today's audience demands a seamless journey across desktop, mobile, and physical touchpoints. Enter responsive design – the crucial capability of a web application interface to effortlessly adapt to different devices and user behaviors.
Progressive Web Apps harness cutting-edge technologies to ensure that web application UIs remain flexible and highly responsive, meeting the elevated expectations of modern users.
3. Branded Icons on the User’s Home Screen
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) create branded icons on the user's home screen, just like native apps. This feature enhances user engagement and retention, as the app becomes easily accessible and visible among other installed apps.
Users can launch the PWA directly from their home screen, reinforcing a sense of ownership and familiarity with the brand. With a single tap, they can enter the app, providing a seamless and app-like experience, even though it is a web-based application.
4. Connectivity Independent
PWAs offer a notable benefit: offline functionality.
Through service workers, PWAs cache critical resources and data, enabling users to access core functionalities in low-connectivity settings.
As progressive web apps can function without user interaction and even offline, their chat apps can receive messages and show notifications even when closed.
Similarly, a news app can update in the background and display fresh content despite the device being offline.
These are just a few of many ways PWAs can work to improve user engagement and satisfaction even when the app isn’t open.
5. Allow Push Notifications
Furthermore, PWAs allow push notifications, enabling businesses to re-engage users effectively. With the user's permission, PWAs can send timely and relevant notifications, even when the app is not actively open in the browser.
These notifications help in delivering personalized updates, offers, and reminders, which can lead to increased user retention and drive conversions. The ability to engage users through push notifications provides a valuable channel for businesses to stay connected with their audience, making PWAs a powerful tool for customer engagement and marketing strategies.
Push notifications are also a super-easy way to increase customer lifetime value (LTV) by improving that level of engagement.
6. Take Up the Entire Device Screen When in Use
When in use, a PWA will take up the entire device screen when in use, providing users with an immersive app-like experience. Unlike traditional websites limited to the browser's UI, PWAs have the ability to hide the browser's address bar and navigation elements, giving them a native app feel.
This full-screen mode maximizes the available screen space, ensuring that users can focus entirely on the app's content and functionality. The app's UI adapts to different screen sizes, whether it's a smartphone, tablet, or desktop, optimizing the user experience and making PWAs versatile across various devices.
This full-screen capability improves user engagement, making PWAs a preferred choice for businesses aiming to deliver a seamless and captivating user experience.
7. Offer Engaging, App-Like Experiences
Finally, PWAs offer engaging, app-like experiences by leveraging modern web technologies and user interface design. They are designed to provide smooth and seamless interactions, just like native apps, making them intuitive and user-friendly. PWAs can deliver fast load times and smooth animations, enhancing the overall user experience.
With the help of service workers, PWAs can work offline or in low-network conditions, ensuring continuous usability even without a stable internet connection. The ability to add PWAs to the home screen and access them directly from the app-like icon enhances user convenience.
Along with the aforementioned push notifications, this combination of features ensures that PWAs deliver a compelling and interactive experience, bridging the gap between traditional websites and native apps. As a result, users are more likely to spend time on PWAs than they would on a traditional website or native app.
8. PWAs Are Still Linkable
As former Google senior staff software engineer Alex Russell put it, “PWAs let companies, escaping the tabs without losing [their] soul.”
This is because companies can turn their websites into apps without losing functionality of any kind. These apps aren’t forced into a one-size-fits-all template. The user experience can be completely customized for each unique market.
But another important advantage that Russell was alluding to is that PWAs don’t lose linkability. So, migrating to a PWA and enjoying all of these benefits doesn’t mean you’ll lose your business’s rankings in Google or other search engines.
9. Built-in Security
No matter how powerful a new feature might be, it won’t be worth it if it negatively impacts your website’s security.
Fortunately, PWAs are constructed using HTTPS, the secure protocol that encrypts data exchanged between the app and server, making it harder for hackers to access sensitive information.
Even better, PWAs utilize Service Workers for app functionality and implement an app manifest, governing app launch and display.
Compared to native apps, PWAs have more restricted permissions, minimizing exposure to security risks. With these integrated technologies, PWAs bolster app security, safeguarding against potential attacks.
10. More Cost-Effective Than Native Mobile Apps
Unlike web apps, native mobile applications demand more time, resources, and unique requirements for individual operating systems, incurring additional app store maintenance fees. PWAs offer a streamlined and budget-friendly approach to app development, catering to a broader audience with reduced overheads.
11. AND They Outperform Conventional Web Apps
PWAs excel in delivering a superior user experience, thanks to their lightweight design that optimizes data consumption. With faster load times, impeccable responsiveness, and seamless animations, PWAs create a delightful user journey that scales effortlessly across diverse devices.
Leveraging progressive enhancement techniques, PWAs ensure compatibility across various browsers and devices, surpassing the limitations of standard web apps and native mobile apps. This unique blend of performance and flexibility cements PWAs as the go-to choice for a rewarding and accessible user experience.
6 PWA Best Practices to Follow Before Launching Yours
Although PWAs are extremely powerful – hence their popularity – it’s important to remember that all Progressive Web Applications are created equal.
So, before you entrust the design, development, and launch of your PWA to an agency, make sure you understand these critical best practices.
1. Your PWA Still Needs to Be Fast
We’ve talked a lot about how user-friendly PWAs are, but if yours is slow, any of those other features won’t matter.
And while one of the reasons PWAs are so popular is because they’re so fast, don’t take this for granted when hiring a developer or agency (like our Magento web development agency) to design and launch yours.
Your app's loading speed and performance significantly impact user engagement and retention. Longer response times lead to higher user abandonment rates, highlighting the importance of swift app functionality.
Users expect very different things from websites and apps.
They expect websites to have longer loading times, especially on poor network connections.
On the other hand, users absolutely demand that their installed apps are consistently fast and respond right away – every time.
2. PWAs Need to Adapt to Any Browser
Your Progressive Web App (PWA) is built on Web technologies, allowing it to be both installable on devices and accessible through web browsers. To ensure broad compatibility, comprehensive testing across various browsers and operating systems is crucial.
Consider the diversity of browsers your users might use and cater to a wide range of potential audiences. Utilizing feature detection enables you to deliver a usable experience to the widest user base.
Progressive Enhancement, a design philosophy, complements feature detection, enabling you to prioritize universal functionality using simple technology. Subsequently, you can enhance the experience for supporting devices.
3. And Adapt to Any Device
As with cross-browser testing, testing across devices is crucial to ensure your Progressive Web App (PWA) reaches the widest audience.
Responsive design is essential for PWAs, guaranteeing content accessibility on any screen size. By adjusting content based on viewport sizes, vital data and actions are prioritized.
Ensure seamless user interaction across different access points. Support keyboard, mouse, touch, and stylus input methods to enable users to interact with all app features.
Opt for semantic HTML elements instead of custom designs, as they inherently support all user input methods. This ensures a consistent and accessible experience across devices.
4. Support Offline Experiences
We already touched on this above when we talked about “connectivity independence”, but let’s delve into this term a bit more because it’s an absolutely essential feature for an effective PWA.
A seamless experience is crucial for installed PWAs, ensuring they work consistently even in slow or unreliable networks or offline conditions.
This is why implementing a custom offline page is essential. This page replaces generic browser errors, providing a more engaging and consistent experience across devices.
To create a truly app-like experience, PWAs should function offline. Users should be able to access most, if not all, app functionalities without internet connectivity. For instance, important actions like composing an email can be saved locally and automatically sent when the device regains connectivity.
5. And Deep Internal Linking
Deep links are powerful hyperlinks pointing to specific pages within your app's domain, like https://example.com/products/123.
In order to still function like a normal website, PWAs must be able to do the same. This is critical not just to help Google crawl the Progressive Web App (like it would a website) but also to improve your PWA’s SEO performance.
And, of course, it also makes all the difference for your users who are accustomed to being able to bookmark, share, and navigate directly to specific content.
6. Provide the Look and Feel of an App
We’ve stressed this a number of times now, but your PWA needs to look and feel like an actual app. That’s the entire point and yet, it often gets ignored.
Here are some of the basics you should consider to make sure your company’s new PWA is fully embraced by users as an app:
- Adapt your app's theme based on user's preferred color scheme
- Customize theme and background colors for a polished look
- Define your app icon
- Focus on essential tasks, removing clutter like headers and footers
- Use a standalone display mode for a dedicated window
- Utilize the system-UI font-family for a faster, platform-native feel
Some of this will also depend on your specific market’s expectations, too. Don’t forget to customize your Progressive Web App based on what your specific customers prefer.
5 Examples of Companies That Have Leveraged PWAs for Amazing Results
PWAs continue to skyrocket in popularity, year-after-year, with no signs of slowing down.
But in case you’re not convinced, let’s look at five completely different companies that have been able to leverage the power of PWAs to see better results than ever before.
Spotify's Progressive Web App (PWA) has been a standout success story, aligning perfectly with users' expectations.
Launched in 2019, alongside a surge in popularity for the streaming platform, the PWA witnessed a remarkable free-to-paid conversion rate of 46%—a significant leap from its earlier rate of 26.6%!
As the years passed, Spotify's PWA continued to impress, achieving a record-breaking conversion rate of 58.4% in 2021.
Alongside this incredible success, the platform experienced increased monthly listening hours and a growing desktop user base.
What sets Spotify's PWA apart is its lightweight design, offline functionality, immersive user experience, and the delivery of personalized playlists based on listening habits. These features have undoubtedly contributed to the PWA's immense appeal and Spotify's continued triumph in the music-streaming industry.
Tinder was already seeing a lot of success for revolutionizing the world of online dating when the company realized they still had a lot of room to improve.
Despite a massive user base of over 75 million worldwide (7.8 million of whom are in the United States alone), Tinder had a problem with their online presence.
Originally, Tinder exclusively catered to mobile users.
However, its transformation into a progressive web application has significantly enhanced the user experience across all devices and browsers.
By leveraging PWA technology, Tinder now boasts a lightweight application that consumes minimal data, leaving more space on user devices and contributing to increased engagement.
The results speak for themselves, with overall usage surging, average session times growing, and a notable uptick in message exchanges and profile updates. Low times dropped by over 50%!
The success of Tinder's PWA is undeniable, firmly establishing it as the unrivaled leader in the dating app realm
Renowned for its fast-paced environment, Twitter (now X) offers users a platform to share concise messages, engage with influencers, and discuss trending topics in real-time.
And yet, the app's earlier versions lacked the agility and flexibility necessary to meet users' demands, despite the majority accessing it from mobile devices.
So, in 2017, Twitter introduced "Twitter Lite," a Progressive Web App (PWA) that would address these concerns in order to create a better user experience.
This new PWA brought a 75% surge in tweet volume, an unbelievable increase of 65% in pages per session. On top of all that, Twitter Lite resulted in a 20% drop in bounce rate, proving that this new version of the app was increasing that all-important customer engagement.
Beyond its speed and enhanced features, Twitter Lite revolutionized storage efficiency.
With an astonishingly low storage requirement (potentially less than 5% of the standard Twitter for Android), the PWA served users an optimal balance of performance and usability.
Pinterest underwent a remarkable transformation when it embraced Progressive Web App (PWA) technology. The original app struggled to deliver a smooth user experience and adapt the pinboard concept to mobile devices effectively.
With a complete overhaul using PWA, Pinterest now offers users a seamless and engaging experience, resulting in increased time spent on the platform and a strengthened revenue stream. The PWA's ability to provide quick, convenient access to visual content in a digestible format perfectly aligns with Pinterest users' preferences.
Of course, it also helped the company reach new revenues by increasing:
- Time spent on app by 40%
- User-generated ad revenue by 44%
- Core engagement by 60%
The success of Pinterest's PWA highlights the significance of offering users a frictionless, fast, and efficient mobile browsing experience, contributing to the platform's thriving status today.
Starbucks is yet another standout when it comes to PWA success stories. It’s practically synonymous with the topic.
Starbucks implemented a PWA for its ordering system, providing the coffee giant with added functionality beyond a standard website.
With the Starbucks PWA, customers can effortlessly place orders, explore the menu, and more, all without the need to download a separate mobile app.
A major advantage of this PWA is its offline availability, enabling customers to browse the menu and add items to their carts even without an internet connection. Once the service is restored, they can easily return to complete their orders.
This improvement (among others) ended up DOUBLING Starbucks’s daily orders.
PWAs also offer exceptional speed, allowing Starbucks customers to place orders swiftly, ideal for those in a hurry. These PWAs load efficiently, ensuring a seamless purchasing experience.
Furthermore, PWAs have a smaller footprint than regular apps, conserving phone storage space. This makes it more likely for customers to keep the PWA on their devices, even if they have limited space available.
Would Your Business Benefit from a PWA?
If your company relies on immersive user experiences, investing in a Progressive Web App for your business should be a no-brainer.
As you saw from the five examples we just listed, PWAs significantly increase site speed, user-friendliness, and engagement. These are three factors that are closely tied to increased revenue.
So, if you make one change to your company’s online web presence in 2023, join the thousands of companies from across every industry that are turning to PWAs to see greater ROIs month-after-month.