The Benefits of Building a Progressive Web App
PWAs offer more than an improved user experience. The inherent properties of the web platform means they can also help businesses solve real problems from reach to maintenance.
Easy distribution and discovery
Consider the friction of distributing a native app: it must pass tricky approval rules, submit to mandated revenue sharing, and gain attention in a crowded app stores. And it could all be for nothing: the average number of apps installed per month is 0 (comScore, 2017). For many businesses, it’s a risky path to take
Contrast that with PWA. Being a website, they’re already available and swiftly updated. Users can discover them naturally through organic and paid search, or via shared links on social media, so marketing efforts are combined. They can also enjoy the new features immediately, right in their browser, before choosing to install.
Native apps only work on the platform they’re created for. That means developing separate iOS and Android apps to cover most phones, and more versions if you want to reach desktop users. Full coverage requires significant upfront development, and creates a large maintenance demand. On the other hand, PWAs are built using web technologies, meaning that they’ll naturally work anywhere the web does.
The “progressive” element of PWAs is also important here. It relates to the important concept of progressive enhancement, whereby a baseline experience which works anywhere can be enhanced by taking advantage of more advanced features supported by the browser or device. So a PWA may function as a normal website in older environments, as a performant app on your smartphone, and then have some extra tricks on Windows 10, where PWAs have access to additional system resources and APIs.
Through the web app manifest, PWAs can break free of the web browser and be installed on a user’s home screen. This is key to encouraging re-engagement, as 86% of time on mobiles is spent in apps. Not only does the user get a full-screen app experience, but through modern web technologies, they can enjoy most of the same features that have made native-apps so useful.
There are many device integration APIs now available including key capabilities that users have come to expect, including geolocation, camera access, sensor input, payment processing, and VR. Push notifications are a headline feature of PWAs, and retailers could be using them to display flash sale alerts, product restock notices, or abandoned cart prompts.
When 53% of users abandon sites that take longer than 3 seconds to load (DoubleClick, 2016), it’s clear that performance should be at the top of your list for improving retention and conversion. If you need convincing, try Google’s revenue impact calculator to see what your load times are costing.
A PWA benefits from smarter cache control, allowing websites that are already streamlined to become truly turbo-charged. The result: a PWA can be launched from a home screen and ready to use in less than a second, rivalling and often beating native apps. This performance boost is a big deal to user experience, but also to bandwidth usage, and will have a huge benefit in emerging markets which depend on wireless connections.
By caching assets and content, it’s also possible for a PWA to continue working offline, or when a poor connection impedes loading, so users no longer have to be roadblocked by a blank grey screen. At the very least, the situation should be handled gracefully using a simple “You’re offline” screen.
But far smarter solutions could be achieved that allow users to carry on with their journey. A PWA for eCommerce might recall a handful of recently viewed products for review, or alternatively some top sellers that summarise what’s available. A retailer with high street stores could also offer key details like opening hours to continue facilitating visits.
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It’s clear that implementing PWA offers a range of wins for businesses. It is easily implemented using current web technologies, and delivers a superior experience for users, which in turn raises satisfaction, encourages engagement, and improves conversion. JH is already including PWA features in projects, and we believe they will become as commonly used as Responsive Web Design.