Progressive web apps – are they right for your business?

Date: 4th April 2018
Author: Louise Arnold

When it comes to technology, it seems that change is the only constant and development of web apps is no exception, with the continual evolution taking us from native to web to hybrid, and now progressive web apps (PWAs). We take a look at this latest form of web app to help you determine whether investing in such development will prove rewarding for your business.

What is a PWA?

Progressive web apps is a term coined by Google to describe websites that are built using web technologies but behave like apps on the mobile web. Crucially, they are device-agnostic – they work on any mobile device with a supported browser, regardless of operating system – which enables them to run happily inside modern web browsers, with no need to visit the app store.

Progressive web apps

PWAs improve the user experience

PWAs combine the best features of both mobile and native web apps, offering the performance benefits of native apps but without the associated development and maintenance drawbacks. They are also part of Google’s strategy to help shape standards for enhanced mobile browsing, so one of the big advantages of PWAs is that they get a big SEO boost from Google. Google has even developed Workbox – a set of libraries and modules making it easy to take advantage of the features used to build PWAs.

Recent advancements in service workers and cache and push APIs also mean that PWAs can be installed to a user’s home screen, allowing them to receive push notifications, unlike regular web apps. Uniquely, they continue to update information even when running in the background to enable offline browsing.

PWAs combine the best features of both mobile and native web apps

Why might PWAs be right for you?

Better user experience and greater conversions…

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that mobile shoppers and online service users are impatient and insist on instant gratification. It’s no surprise, then, that page load time still holds sway over mobile conversion rates. From a performance point of view, PWAs’ super-fast speeds propel them way beyond the limitations of responsive web design.

And there are obvious development advantages…

From a developer’s perspective, PWAs are both easier to deploy and maintain, compared to a native application. A website can be built in less time, without having to go to the trouble of retaining reverse compatibility for the API (users will run the same version of code).

Nor is there a need for a separate team to write app software (in Apple iOS objective-C language and Android java). Instead, the PWA will easily span functionality that could previously only be done on a native app – checking a train timetable, for instance, even when you’re offline.

The challenges of PWAs

But it’s not all rosy in the PWA garden. One of the biggest disadvantages is that PWAs aren’t currently supported by all mobile browsers – although with Google pushing for cross-browser compatibility, and since PWAs are largely developed using standard HTML5, it’s only a matter of time until they will. However, Apple has been reluctant to embrace PWAs and support has been slow to arrive in Safari as well as Microsoft Edge for the ‘service workers’ that deliver an app-like feel.

As browsers become more powerful, it becomes harder to determine their performance in terms of page availability. Because PWAs perform clever caching exercises in the browser (pre-caching), it’s not uncommon for a new page to load without any network objects requested between the click and the user view. Conversely, while waiting for a page or looking at one, there may be network objects under request that aren’t part of the current page at all.

Deciding how to address the question of ‘which objects are needed for which page?’ is complex, which is why using an independent service to load test and monitor PWAs makes perfect sense. SciVisum already tests PWAs as part of its wider performance testing service, and recently completed a load test for Debenhams with the new Mobify platform in place.

PWA support on Safari has been slow to arrive

The PWA state of play

Although still relatively new, many major players have put resources into developing PWAs over the last couple of years. Brands including Instagram, Lancome, Trivago, Twitter Lite and Uber are among the companies that have already launched PWAs to improve mobile user experience and deliver apps that are fast, engaging and consistent – with impressive results.

In a world where IoT is developing at a rate of knots, PWAs are the logical way to interact with a world full of connected devices. For more information on how load testing could help you optimise user experience, check out our load testing and monitoring service pages. Alternatively, call us on 01227 768276 to discuss your specific requirements.

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