Progressive web applications (PWA) have been the hot thing for a few years now. With headless eCommerce gaining popularity (check out our articles about the benefits of going headless, pros and cons of headless commerce, headless Shopify and going headless with BigCommerce), almost every frontend framework throws around the fact that they’re a PWA, assuming that you know why that’s a good thing. PWA are great, but the reasons why are a bit more involved, and we want to unpack them.
In a nutshell, progressive web applications are regular applications that use service workers, manifests and progressive elements to create a native app-like experience.
If you get the idea but don’t understand why it’s a significant or valuable architecture, then read on.
Benefits of Progressive Web Applications
One Codebase That Works On All Devices
These days, every device has a browser. The browser developers have done the heavy lifting to get their product working on every type of phone, laptop, desktop, tablet, and all the various operating systems that power these devices.
PWAs take advantage of these efforts by running code directly through the browser like a regular web application.
Throw in the features that make PWAs feel like native apps (blazing fast speed, working offline, and push notifications) and your application does most of the things a native application would have.
For many businesses, PWAs do enough that they don’t have to develop a whole new codebase for Android, iOS and web. Supporting three platforms carries at least three times the overhead of one codebase.
We find that entrepreneurs who engage us to help them build applications always ask for a web app and mobile app. When given the option to pay for the development of one application compared to three, they always choose the PWA path.
PWAs Works Offline
The ability to continue working when the network is down is another big selling point of PWAs. In our experience, the benefit is kind of limited. You’ll rarely be using a device offline in the first place, and if you have to, the chances are that you’ll want information from the network. Even though PWAs can work offline, they can retrieve external information when not connected to the internet.
Native App Feel (and installable!)
Because PWAs and their service workers build such a comprehensive cache, the application can run extremely fast. Fast response times make your PWA feel a bit more like a native application. Additionally, PWAs can hide the browser controls; the application can be “installed” with an icon on the homepage, and push notifications can be delivered to the user.
Native applications are desirable for users because they live directly on their devices rather than “on the internet”. It means one less step they have to take to start interacting with the application.
Similarly, only good things come from fast load and response times. Users tend to interact more extensively with the content because they don’t get the opportunity to get bored and distracted.
PWAs don’t need to be distributed through the app store
This benefit is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, advertising your app through Google and Apple’s app stores means additional visibility. On the other hand, it means paying a juicy commission. In the case of Apple, that’s 20% of all sales.
It’s worth mentioning that even if you wanted to, you couldn’t submit your PWA to the Apple app store. They’re yet to allow PWA on their platform. However, PWAs can be sold through Google’s Play Store.
Building a PWA means that you can prompt users to “install” the application directly from your website, completely cutting out the app market middleman. This ultimately means more money in your pocket!
No Need To Install Updates
Native apps require updates to be pushed out to users. Since the files are installed locally on their device, they need to be reinstalled when the codebase changes.
PWAs, on the other hand, live in the cloud and are served through the browser. Anytime the codebase is changed, a new version of the application will become available to the user whenever they next interact with the application without any reinstallation process.
Not forcing users to accept app updates isn’t a huge deal, but it is nice to think you’re not pestering your user base with update notifications.
We’ve intentionally left push notifications as the last benefit.
PWAs can send push notifications. There are plenty of implementation issues with push notifications on iOS devices, and getting them to work correctly is a pain.
If you can overcome the technical challenges, your application can send push notifications like a native app. Many applications have use cases for push notifications (reminders, awards, notifications), and it’s an effective way to draw users back into interacting with your app.
If you’ve read any other articles on PWAs, you’ve probably noticed some benefits we’ve left off this list. The biggest one is conversion rate increases and sales performance benefits.
This omission is intentional because we haven’t run any firsthand experiments to verify that PWAs alone can significantly impact purchasing behaviour. Typically when a business commits to convert their stack to a PWA, they go through a rebranding and make many other significant modifications.
There’s a ton of anecdotal evidence on the internet that PWAs influence positive change in conversion rates, but we’re not sure it’s concrete enough to list as a benefit of adopting this architecture.
Whether or not PWAs significantly impact conversion rates and sales, there are enough other tangible benefits to make it an attractive approach.
If you’d like to check out a PWA in action, drop us a line. We actively manage a handful of PWAs that we’ve built over the past few years, and we’re always happy to do tours! Or, if you’d like to get a quote on building your own PWA, simply send our team a message through the website contact form.
Tim is the face of the company. When you want to kick off a new project, or an update on your existing project, Tim is your man!