Understand progressive web apps (PWAs) and how to set them up
The content development and delivery spheres change every day. Even the best teams can struggle to keep up with the latest technologies, which is crucial to keeping pace with competitors.
Some of your clients may have asked you about one of these new technologies: progressive web apps (PWAs). Your team may be unfamiliar with this novel way to provide a quality browsing experience — or unsure if a PWA is right for your business needs.
In this guide to progressive web apps, we’ll cover:
- What a PWA is
- Differences between a native app and a PWA
- Benefits of PWAs
- Characteristics of PWAs
- What you need to get started
What is a progressive web app (PWA)?
A progressive web app (PWA) is a combined approach to web media. Deploying a PWA makes life easier for back-end developers, front-end developers, and users who gain a better experience when all is said and done. PWAs accomplish this impossible task by combining traditionally separate spheres of development into a single ecosystem.
More specifically, this architecture merges the powerful features of a native app with the universal accessibility of an easy-to-use website. These tools can offer your users a deeper and more comprehensive experience than a typical website.
Like a native app, a PWA provides push notifications to keep users updated, along with offline access for constant use. A website cannot do that. But notifications are just one of the many advantages that PWAs have over traditional websites — they also bring the many benefits of websites to an environment that operates like a familiar native app.
The convenience PWAs bring to online storefronts is significant — using a PWA can increase the conversion rate for mobile users by 36%. Such findings come as no surprise, considering how PWAs combine the convenience and ease of use of a native app with the power and flexibility of a website.
Twitter is a notable and successful example of a PWA. Users can access the site through either a browser or an app as their personal preferences and situations change.
On mobile, they receive notifications of relevant content and engagement to bring them back into the app for more. Meanwhile, on the desktop, users gain access to a more accessible dashboard of versatile features.
What is the difference between a native app and a PWA?
Native apps use a proprietary programming language made specifically for the platform where they can be purchased. The two largest marketplaces are the Google Play Store for Android and Apple App Store for iOS.
The more stores a traditional app developer adds to its market, the more code bases it must maintain. A PWA makes it easy to access the many benefits of app connectivity with the powerful features of a complete website, bringing together the best of both worlds.
Here are some of the main differences between native apps and PWAs.
Developers must create a native app in a single programming language and transfer features across languages and environments that may not suit them. Compare that to a PWA, which utilizes a single codebase for different programs. This consolidated knowledge base means the use of a PWA saves money on developer time and training.
Native apps are not indexed by search engines, but these engines are one of the best ways to reach and convert new clients. Though native apps can leverage app store optimization, they can’t compare to the powerful reach of traditional search engine optimization. Since PWAs are essentially websites, they can be found via web searches and are traditionally indexable, which makes them more discoverable.
Native apps maintain extra safety and security features thanks to their more restrictive infrastructure. PWAs should use an SSL certificate to replicate that extra security and keep users safe.
Installation and download
PWAs can be visited and bookmarked like websites and added to the phone home screen like apps. While native apps require download and installation, PWAs do not have to be installed. PWAs retain 20% more customers by cutting out a single step.
What are the benefits of PWAs?
Some of the advantages of PWAs have already been discussed, but here are eight more benefits PWAs offer over traditional native apps:
- PWAs can be built using common website technologies.
- PWAs cost less to develop and maintain.
- PWAs work offline without an internet connection.
- PWAs can be independently updated without having to go through app stores.
- PWAs don’t have to be approved and updated for different app stores.
- PWAs can be indexed and discovered by search engines, which have a much larger customer base than app stores.
- PWAs offer fewer code bases to manage since your website will double as an app.
- PWAs garner higher engagement.
Characteristics of a progressive web app
PWAs have several key features that differentiate them from traditional web and native apps.
PWAs do not have to grapple with the closed ecosystem of traditional app store markets. Because search engines can index and discover PWAs as they can traditional websites, web browsers that use those search engines can be directed to PWAs without intent from the user.
Rather than requiring users to search out the specific app, a larger user base can be pointed in the right direction from their search engine results page, which brings more conversions from a larger audience.
A PWA must be responsive. Unlike websites, which are typically viewed on only a small variety of devices with fairly equivalent specifications and similar browser programs, PWAs can be accessed on a wide range of different mobile devices.
These mobile devices vary in power, size, and capacity. A PWA, like a native app, must take pains to ensure that it can be viewed on any screen size and will load fast with the resources of any device.
Unlike native apps, which are self-contained, PWAs should be able to be linked to — just like websites. Users can direct other users to specific pages. The convenience of referrals through information sharing drives more traffic to a PWA than a traditional native app.
At the same time, PWAs can also be installed on the home page of a mobile device like any other app. This link to the page of the user’s choice makes it easy for them to load your site.
In turn, the convenience encourages users to reach out to your site rather than a competitor’s — they can tap it on their home screen and have the information they need.
A PWA, like a native app, can be used offline. With some data stored locally, users can access basic information and previously loaded pages. This reliability builds a sense of trust in the user’s mind — they know they can access your website, regardless of their signal or location.
Because native apps operate in a locked-down environment, PWAs are expected to do the same. Additional security features like SSL are mandatory when building a PWA to bring the benefits of both native apps and websites together in the system.
PWAs can be loaded on any browser since they operate like a website rather than an app that must be installed through the store. Developers of PWAs must therefore be ready to confront a wide variety of issues from a broader install base since they cannot limit which users and devices access their application.
Developers must take care to adapt performance and visual design to a variety of specifications to accommodate as many users as possible.
Native apps continue to adjust a consistent visual style across marketplaces and developers. PWAs should attempt to bring the same experience while also ensuring they can adjust to a wider variety of device sizes and screens.
What you need to get started with PWA development
When initiating PWA development — whether starting from scratch or converting a separate app or website infrastructure — it can be difficult to determine which tools are necessary or where to begin. Any developer working to build a PWA will need these four tools to succeed:
1. Secure connection
This newer and more secure form of connection (https) has become the standard method of network communication. Additional encryption and security are vital throughout the development process to protect consumer and enterprise data.
2. Service workers
In addition to the developers who create the application, a PWA requires a person or team to maintain and iterate the PWA after release. This can involve the same developers or a supplemental team as the creators move on to a new project.
3. Manifest file
Like any application or website, your PWA will need a manifest file to track basic information. This meta information helps track changes in your app, such as version number, license, and date of the last update.
4. Application file
Though smaller than a native app, a PWA should still carry an application file. This installation helps it load faster and gives users the impression of greater speed and efficiency as the remainder of the website downloads from the web or device drives.
Adobe can help
PWAs have seen explosive growth as companies switch to them to reap the benefits of both websites and native apps, but at a lower cost. Adobe recognizes how PWAs are rapidly becoming a vital part of the modern marketplace, and Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento) supports PWA development with PWA Studio.
PWA Studio is a new product for a new ecosystem. Meant to assist companies with little PWA experience, PWA Studio aims to help you build a quality PWA fast — at a fraction of the cost that internal development would incur.
PWA Studio also supports headless commerce development. This system uses an API to separate the front end and back end of the development. The separated architecture helps the two types of developers work without creating problems for each other or delaying the development cycle. Front-end developers can make look-and-feel changes in real time without going through the back end, which ensures the site updates fast and fluidly.
The platform also adopts modern standards and releases for a variety of tools and integrations, which makes it easy to continue development using additional methods derived from the larger PWA Studio community.
Check out the overview video to learn more about the benefits of PWA Studio and how you can make the PWA switch more easily than ever.