Demystifying Progressive Web Apps: What They Are, How They Work, and Why They Matter

We interact with many websites and apps in our everyday life. We use apps to download music, do our banking, make impulse buys, read the news, and even ask for directions. There is arguably an app for everything out there!

But have you heard of progressive web apps? If not, you’re about to. Progressive web apps are a recent development in the software world, and some people have difficulty nailing down the perfect definition.

So let’s take a crack at progressive web apps, what they are, and why they matter.

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What Is a Progressive Web App?

A progressive web app (PWA) is an app that uses the capabilities of the modern web to deliver an app-like experience for users. Progressive web apps use long-recognized web technologies like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS but have the functionality and feel of a native app.

All progressive web apps share three essential criteria:

  • It must run with a secure connection (HTTPS). This connection is essential for good security and building trust with consumers.
  • It must include a Web App Manifest file. The JSON file has information relating to the PWA’s appearance and function.
  • It must feature a Service Worker. Service workers are pieces of script that run in the background and helps you determine how to handle the PWA’s network requests.

How Does a Progressive Web App Differ from a Native App?

You download apps from sites like Google Play or the Apple App Store, and they are usually written in the programming language that conforms to the platform. Consequently, native apps are typically developed twice (for Android and iOS).

A progressive web app is just an ultra-optimized website for mobile devices, accessed from the device’s browser (e.g., Chrome, Firefox, Safari), downloading the content while and as the user browses, so earning the name “progressive.”

The Characteristics of a Progressive Web App

All progressive web apps have the following ten characteristics:

1. Progressive

PWAs work for all users, regardless of browser. That’s because PWAs are developed with progressive enhancement, using any features available on the user’s browser or device.

2. Responsive

PWA user interfaces fit any form factor, mobile, desktop, or tablet.

3. Connectivity independent

PWAs are enhanced with service workers that let users work offline or on low-quality networks.

4. App-like

They use the application shell model, making them look like native apps and providing app-style navigation and interaction.

5. Fresh

The apps are always up to date with the latest content, thanks to the service worker update process.

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6. Safe

PWAs are served via TLS to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks and ensure the content hasn’t been tampered with.

7. Discoverable

Since PWAs are websites, it must be easy for search engines to discover them.

8. Re-engageable

Mobile users are likely to re-use their apps, so PWAs make re-engagement simple courtesy of features like push notifications.

9. Installable

This characteristic lets users “keep” their most useful apps on their home screen without bothering with an app store.

10. Linkable

PWAs should be easily shared by URL and do not need complicated installation.

Benefits of Progressive Web Apps

Despite being new to the application scene, progressive web apps are already attracting attention thanks to their advantages. Here are the reasons progressive web apps are so appealing.

  • You don’t have to deal with submitting your app to different app stores
  • Developers can build PWAs using standard web technologies
  • PWAs are usually cheaper to build
  • There are fewer code-bases to maintain because you’re turning your website into an application
  • Since PWAs are built for compatibility across many devices, they are responsive and work with various screen sizes
  • PWAs are smooth, quick, and lightweight
  • There is no need to throw large sums of money at Google and Apple
  • Your web browser can cache PWAs, so you can use them even when you're offline.
  • People can use search engines to discover PWAs, which is particularly great because more people use search engines than frequent app stores. Of course, you can still get your PWAs distributed through app stores if you want
  • Since PWAs are discoverable through search engines, they also count towards SEO
  • You can use the PWA’s push notifications to re-engage users with timely updates
  • Installing a PWA organically leads to higher user engagement

Of course, PWAs are not perfect. They pose challenges such as:

  • They aren’t as compatible with iOS. PWAs favor Android OS, and Apple doesn’t allow PWAs to access many essential features like Face ID, Touch ID, Bluetooth, battery information, and beacons.
  • Since PWAs have only been around a few years, they aren’t optimized for legacy devices with old web browsers.
  • PWAs have fewer features, meaning a diminished user experience.
  • PWAs are plagued by high battery usage because they are developed with high-level web code, making the devices work harder to interpret it.

The Seven Best Practices for Progressive Web Applications

If you plan on developing PWAs, keep these seven tips in mind:

  1. Keep the navigation simple and fast. Simplicity means less confusion which means less frustration and possible opt-outs.
  2. Optimize for both desktop and mobile devices.
  3. Acknowledge the user’s interaction.
  4. Employ a “back” button. You can curb customer frustration by ensuring the “back” button returns to the precise scroll position in the list the user was accessing.
  5. Make an eye-catching home screen logo. An attractive logo makes your app stand out, increasing the chance of putting the app on their home screen.
  6. Ensure smooth scrolling and animation and add placeholders to prevent content from moving around the page.
  7. Offer share options. This practice is possibly the most important. Word of mouth is a useful tool, so you must ensure that users can easily see your PWA’s content and URLs on social media.
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Why Are Progressive Web Apps Important?

According to this article, every step an app designer adds to their mobile app’s onboarding flow results in a 20 percent loss of its users. Consider that a prospective user must: find the app online in the store, download it, install it, and then finally, open it. In today’s expediency-oriented online world, that’s an eternity — and the app is losing eyeballs.

Progressive web apps are a quick, easy way to deliver quality (albeit somewhat limited) content to users fast, increasing customer engagement and boosting things like visibility and search engine optimization.

Progressive web apps still have a long way to go before they supplant entirely native apps, but if technology continues improving at its rapid pace, the sky’s the limit. And, you can get in on this new trend by learning the latest ways to develop applications. Check out our Post Graduate Program in Full Stack Web Development, in collaboration with Caltech CTME or any of our other online and interactive bootcamps in software development today! 

About the Author

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Simplilearn is one of the world’s leading providers of online training for Digital Marketing, Cloud Computing, Project Management, Data Science, IT, Software Development, and many other emerging technologies.

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