Understanding Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are experiences that combine the best of the web and the best of apps. Native app store apps have become hugely popular in the past through features such as push notifications, working offline, smooth animations and transitions, loading on the home screen and so on.

Mobile Web Apps are JavaScript applications that worked in the browser and attempted to bring some of the native apps features to the web, but weren’t able to provide push notifications for example. With the mobile introduction of new Web APIs, Progressive Web Apps are now closing the gap, providing the full app-like experience on the mobile web.

Google describes them as being:

  • Reliable – Load instantly
  • Fast – Quickly respond to user interactions
  • Engaging – Behaving like a native app

To hit all of these points, a Progressive Web App must have the following capabilities:

  • Work offline or on poor network conditions
  • Web App Install Banners or Add to Home screen
  • Use Web Push Notifications. With the introduction of the Web Push API, we can now send Push Notifications to our users, even when the browser is closed.
  • Implement HTTPS
  • Use an application shell (or app shell) architecture that instantly loads on the users’ screens, similar to native applications.

In essence, a PWA is a Single Page Application written in JavaScript. Offline mode, Add to Home screen and Web Push Notifications are all implemented using service workers.

Progressive Web Apps vs. Responsive Web Design

Progressive Web Apps should not be confused with Responsive Web Design. Progressive Web Apps have responsive capabilities because they can adapt to different screen sizes, but their unique value proposition are the features that make them app-like.

In the last years, RWD has been the go-to solution for mobile web solutions, but a Forrester report from last year identified that RWD has reached saturation – 87% of digital experience makers embrace it – and that a shift in customer expectations to prefer app-like experiences on the web is taking place before our eyes.

Are PWAs the solution for engaging mobile web users?

Building a high-quality Progressive Web App has incredible benefits, making it easy to delight users, grow engagement and increase conversions. There are several examples of companies, particularly from the e-commerce industry, that have successfully used Progressive Web Apps to improve their metrics, a lot of them are listed on Google’s Developers website.

  • For example, Alibaba.com built a PWA that led to a fast, effective, and reliable mobile web experience. The new strategy delivered a 76% increase in total conversions across browsers and a four times higher interaction rate from Add to Home screen.
  • In another use case, OLX wanted to re-engage mobile web users by using Add to Home screen and Push Notifications. They increased engagement by 250% and improved other metrics too: the time until the page became interactive fell by 23%, with a corresponding 80% drop in bounce rates. Monetisation also improved, with clickthrough rate (CTR) rising 146%.

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