App experiences are very different today depending on whether or not users are accessing the app on a web browser or on their devices; users expect different interactions when coming from Google Chrome or the Apple App Store. With Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs, businesses are hoping to start to blend these expectations in an effort to focus on accessibility and a lower cost of entry.
A Place for PWAs
With global businesses, the expectations of what network speed users have access to for consuming their content with can be increasingly diverse; with users in Qatar, the fastest country by average, having a 62 Mbps average download speed and users in India, a country with a massive amount of phone users, averaging around 9 Mbps. This means that businesses that spend marketing and design dollars are tailoring to an audience that will not accept a mobile experience taking over 3 seconds to load, potentially losing users in the time it takes to load.
PWAs take this challenge head-on by being more lightweight, improved and advanced caching, and generally focusing on performance over an expansive app experience. PWAs are both a result of mobile-focused web design and a new output of leveraging important new processes that allows for an experience closer to a native app.
What is the PWA experience?
When a user accesses a website that is capable of delivering a PWA, the user will be asked if they’d like to add the site to their device’s homepage. Once the site has been added to their device, it will appear via an icon like any other native application, and, when opened, will not use a browser bar or any other menus you would expect from a browser. From here, a user can interact with the PWA as they would a native app, essentially not showing a difference between the mobile site and the native app. Once installed, businesses can still offer user-tailored content, send push notifications to the user, and track their activity via analytics tools. Also, unlike when using a mobile browser, PWAs can offer experiences offline by caching content and interactions, similar to if a user opened a native app when offline.
Who has made PWAs?
Social media and e-commerce easily have experienced the bulk of success with adding PWAs because of their ability to foster offline engagement which is often a limitation of native applications. Because native applications are limited by their connectivity for access, PWAs are able to serve customers who are unable to access native applications and increase retail sales due to brand loyalty, recognition, and access to the e-commerce provided in the native application. Some examples of successes in Progressive Web Applications include Starbucks, Alibaba, Lancome, Net-a-Porter, Lilly Pulitzer, and West Elm.
The Benefits of a PWA
The benefits of building a progressive web application hinge on spreading access to content as widely as possible. That’s why the retail space has seen so much success: coupling brand loyalty with wider access means more sales. Ultimately, building a PWA in conjunction with a native application widens the access to e-commerce and communication, broadens customer engagement and brand loyalty, and assuages connectivity concerns from a greater audience. Further, updates can be pushed automatically without updating through an app store, which means you can make updates to your user experience without having to wait for a full app store approval and release which is crucial around your brand campaigns. A progressive web application frees up space on a a mobile or tablet device, and, with being so lightweight, they are fast and responsive as well.
The Drawbacks of a PWA
PWAs don’t come without their limitations, however. For PWA success, a certain degree of brand recognition and loyalty along with cross-platform engagement is necessary. Further, Android devices really only have the capabilities of saving a PWA to the home screen while iOS is limited to the responsiveness of Safari.
Is a PWA for you?
Ultimately, PWAs are best suited for the retail space where brand recognition and loyalty is already present and there is a degree of omni-channel presence and customer engagement. A quick survey of the brands with successful and profitable PWAs would indicate just that: they have some sort of native application, an e-commerce presence, and wide brand recognition.
Strategic Account Manager
Ellen Begley Weaver is a Strategic Account Manager who shirked the traditional career path after law school and leapt fearlessly into the tech industry. A barred attorney and a Georgia Peach, she enjoys the challenges that come with shaking up industry precedent and embracing what people really want or need through conversation. While not working, she enjoys hiking and swimming in the James River with her husband and two dogs, pouring a pint for friends at Buskey Cider, and swimming on an amateur synchronized swimming team called the River City Magnolias.