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What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Progressive Web Apps?

Web app developers have to be on their toes all the time, ready to embrace the latest web development technologies in order to meet the growing expectations of modern users. One web development technology that has been changing the landscape of web development in recent years is called Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). In this article, we explain the main advantages and disadvantages of Progressive Web Apps to help you decide whether a PWA is the right choice for your project.

What is a Progressive Web App?

The term “progressive web app” was coined by Google Chrome engineer Alex Russell, who used it to describe a new generation of web applications that load just like regular websites but take advantage of features supported by modern browsers, including service workers and web app manifests, to offer the user functionality such as working offline, push notifications, and other features that have traditionally been associated only with native applications.

As such, PWAs effectively bridge the gap between mobile apps and websites, offering the best of both worlds. PWAs come at a time when users demand sleek mobile experiences but are overwhelmed by the number of apps on their devices, making them reluctant to install new ones.

Many leading companies have already jumped on the PWA bandwagon and released their own web applications with native functionality, including AliExpress, which reported a 104 percent increase in conversion rates for new users, and Twitter, which saw a 65 percent increase in pages per session, 75 percent in Tweets, and a 20 percent decrease in bounce rate.

The main advantages and disadvantages of Progressive Web Apps

All main advantages and disadvantages of Progressive Web Apps stem from the fact that PWAs merge the convenience and reach of the web with the functionality of native mobile apps.

Advantages:

> Offline mode

PWAs can be cached by the web browser and used even when offline. That’s great news for businesses with product catalogs because it allows their customers to browse products even when not connected to the internet, increasing user engagement rates and potentially leading to higher revenue.

> Improved performance

“53% of users will abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load! And once loaded, users expect them to be fast—no janky scrolling or slow-to-respond interfaces,” states Google on its website.

Because PWAs utilize the so-called service workers, which are JavaScript files that run separately from the main browser thread and proactively control the caching of assets, they can deliver much better performance than traditional web apps.

> No installation or manual updates required

To use Twitter’s progressive web app, there’s no need to visit the Play Store or App Store to install it. Users can simply visit mobile.twitter.com and log in without any delays. When Twitter updates its PWA, users don’t have to install it manually – all new features and bug fixes are available without any manual action required.

Of course, users are not the only ones who benefit from seamless updates. A company that releases and maintains a PWA can expect to receive less customer support requests from users who still have an outdated version of the app, and the company can release updates as often as it wants without angering its users.

Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of progressive web apps.

> Platform-specific features

No list of the main advantages and disadvantages of Progressive Web Apps can be complete without mentioning the fact that PWAs can take advantage of many platform-specific features. For example, PWAs can live on the user’s home screen and deliver web push notifications that appear just like regular push notifications. They can run in full screen, change display orientation, start with a custom splash screen, access locational data, and much more.

> Low on data

In emerging markets like India, Columbia, Pakistan, or South Africa, mobile data is much more expensive than in developed countries. PWAs are much smaller than mobile apps, and they require a lot less bandwidth than traditional web apps because they can take much better advantage of caching.

Tinder’s PWA, for example, is just 2.8 MB large, whereas its Android app is whooping 30 MB in size. That’s a massive difference for someone who doesn’t have unlimited mobile data and can’t readily connect to a reliable Wi-Fi network.

> App store independent

PWAs are app store-independent, which is great news for smaller businesses and independent app developers that don’t want to pay Apple’s annual fee of $99 or Google’s lifetime fee of $25 just to get their app published. Of course, not depending on an app store also frees app developers to create any app they want without being shackled by Google’s and Apple’s app store policies and restrictions.

Disadvantages:

> Compatibility with iOS

Since iOS 11.3, it’s been possible to run PWAs on Apple devices, but you can forget about compatibility with older devices. What’s more, Apple doesn’t allow PWAs to access many important features, including Touch ID, Face ID, ARKit, Bluetooth, serial, Beacons, altimeter sensor, and even battery information.

> Issues with legacy devices

PWAs have been around for just a few years, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that older mobile devices with outdated web browsers don’t support them too well. While this problem will inevitably solve itself in the future, it may be a source of customer complaints for some companies.

> PWAs can’t do everything

As capable as PWAs are compared to traditional web apps, they can’t do everything mobile apps can do. Because they are written in JavaScript, they are not as battery efficient as apps written in native languages, such as Kotlin or Swift.

Their performance is also not as good as the performance of native apps, which has a lot to do with the fact that JavaScript is a single-threaded programming language. At the moment, access to certain important device features is still missing, including Bluetooth, proximity sensors, ambient light, advanced camera controls, and others.

Conclusion

After listing the main advantages and disadvantages of Progressive Web Apps, it’s clear that the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Despite having been around for a relatively short time (even as far as web technology is concerned), PWAs have already managed to establish a new philosophy for building websites, and no company that wants to be relevant in the mobile era can afford to ignore them.

Matt Warcholinski

Matt Warcholinski is the COO of Brainhub (a software house building awesome node.js web and mobile apps) who loves to build startups and play guitar.

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