The Rise of Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

native apps

mobile development

development

User Experience

Content

March 19
blog author

Tbrown

Front End Developer

As technology evolves, expectations when a user visits a website have changed. To keep your users or customers returning to your website, product or service, you have to adapt to the ever growing demand for not just fast-loading websites, but also providing a stable and immersive experience that appears native to the user.

First, let’s get some things out of the way - What is a progressive web app? Wikipedia’s definition is really thorough:

A Progressive Web App (PWA) is a web application that loads like a regular websites but can offer the user functionality such as working offline, push notifications, and device hardware access traditionally available only to native applications. PWA combine the flexibility of the web with the experience of a native application.

So basically for a website to qualify as a progressive web app, it needs to load instantly (or load really really fast), needs to work offline (cache data or provide an offline message) and look like it native to the device that the website is being viewed from, whether mobile, tablet or desktop. Modern PWA’s actually have access to device hardware like the camera, audio, push notifications and even more recently, Bluetooth using the Web Bluetooth API - very cool!

Let’s take a look at some big players who switched from their native mobile applications to progressive web applications.

  1. Pinterest rebuilt their mobile web experience using React, Redux and webpack leading to several positive improvements in core business metrics. It took them 3 months to build their PWA and it resulted in time spent on the mobile site going up by 40% compared to the old mobile web experience, user-generated ad revenue up by 44% and core engagements up by 60%. Even better, page load speed was reduced from 23s to 5.6s.

  2. A great example to emulate if you’re a company expanding to a global market is what Uber did for its mobile website. In many emerging markets, lower spec devices are more common, and 2G and 3G networks are more the norm. Uber’s native mobile applications wasn’t compatible with lower spec devices and some other older devices. The solution: A PWA that is only 50kb in size - so lightweight and so fast it performs amazing even on 2G networks.

  3. Forbes redesigned their mobile website as a PWA which resulted in load-time reducing from 3 seconds to 12 seconds to now 0.8 seconds. Users now spend more time on the site as a result (43% increase), more ad views (20% increase) and more content engagement from readers (increase of 100%).

  4. AliExpress, a major player in the eCommerce world wanted to bring the best parts of their app to the web with hopes of converting non-app users to native app users. The result was a cross-platform PWA that showed a 104% increase in new users across all browsers, 82% increase in new iOS users, 2X more pages visited per session per users across all browsers and a 74% increase in time spent per session across all browsers.

There’s many more case studies showing huge benefits especially in conversion rates and user-retention rates when a mobile website is converted to a PWA in a variety of industries. PWA’s are getting more common - I’ve come across many blogs, personal websites and the more that are PWA; primarily to make sure they have direct contact to their fans, readers and customers (usually via push notifications and other PWA features).

PWA can do a lot more than you think - and I predict most reasons against adopting one will be addressed in the next year or two. Don’t take my word for it - here’s a website that shows what a PWA is capable of doing (in modern browsers) right now.