What do you get when you cross the reach of responsive web with the presence of a native mobile app? Progressive Web Apps, or PWA’s for short! Coined by Google Chrome engineer Alex Russell in 2015, PWA’s look and function like an app, but live on the web instead of on your device as a download.

It doesn’t look like you’re in a browser (there’s no chrome, no browser controls) so it looks and presents just like a native application. You can pin them to your homescreen, and PWA’s can even work offline and in the background with “service workers” or scripts that enable push notifications, background syncing, and low-level control over requests and caching.

Google has a good reason to push for and promote PWA’s: They want users back on the web! By using a PWA instead of a native app, it shows up in search, analytics, adwords, and all of that benefits Google.

venn diagram shows one circle labelled Native Apps and a second circle labelled Web Apps overlap in a section called Progressive Web Apps

Stealing All the Best Features From Native Apps

For many years, native apps offered a better user experience and booted faster compared to having to load in a browser at runtime, and web-based apps couldn’t compete. Not so anymore, with the introduction of enhancements to Javascript CSS3 and HTML5, as well as compliance from web browsers.

PWA’s also offer offline usability thanks to the “service workers” or scripts that accomplish what used to be owned by native apps, like camera access, bluetooth, push notifications, and more. Furthermore, PWA’s are less expensive than developing a native app, because they take less time to build and are cheaper to maintain. The end result? You reach more users for less spend, and you don’t have to build to accommodate both iOS and Android.

Better Than Responsive Web

Responsive web design is the pioneer that helped shrink websites on desktop down to smaller screens/devices. It was invented to accommodate desktop-first design standards, whereas PWA’s are obviously designed mobile-first. Responsive design definitely has saturation in the market due to this evolution of web and technology, but it achieves less.

Regular websites cannot send push notifications, and don’t offer offline usability, either. Their strength lies in having no requirement for the end user to install an update when changes are made.

After all, when you change something on your site, it goes live on the web as soon as you deploy. And that’s really important, because whether you’re a business, a brand, a tool or a resource online, you want the user experience to be consistent. That’s one spot where native apps struggle to compete, because there is no guarantee that a user will install updates at all! PWA’s, like traditional web, create a cohesive user experience. All updates to all users at the same time, unlike native apps.

PWA’s Are Taking UX and Design Leads From Native Apps

Native apps have changed the way users interact with content on devices of all sizes — and it has leaked into web design. It’s well known that new technology “teaches’ us how to interact with our devices and other technology, and also shifts user expectations for their experiences when interacting with apps and websites. The new standard of mobile-first — and how those UX experiences should work — are heavily influenced by the fact that more than 52% of the world’s internet traffic is on mobile.

Even though so many believe that PWA’s will become the new standard and replace “everything else”, native apps still retain some functionality that PWA’s have been unable to adopt — so far. Contacts, calendar and browser bookmarks access is still off limits for PWA’s, as are telephone features. PWA’s cannot intercept SMS or calls.

Big Companies Are Implementing PWA’s Today

Deeper analytics, discoverability, and longevity — PWA’s really offer the best hybrid experience for users. Big assets like Uber, Twitter, Instagram, Starbucks, Trivago and even Google Maps have created PWA’s that are often faster and indistinguishable from their native app versions.

Looking to the future? Some of the most prominent upcoming applications of PWA’s will likely involve banking apps, which are significantly more difficult to maintain and secure than regular banking websites.

Table comparing Native Apps, Progressive Web Apps, and Web on seven features So what do you think? Are PWAs the answer to the problems that have limited responsive web and native apps? We want to hear from you — let’s talk tech!

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