Lucas DiPietrantonio

3x founder based in New York City. Currently scaling Darkroom and NERA.

The Advantages of Progressive Web Apps (PWA) Versus Native Apps

“There’s an app for that.”
Apple’s trademarked phrase advertising its app store was endlessly parroted, but it came from a fundamental truth. There really is an app for just about anything you can think of now.
In our always-on world, apps for our smartphones and tablets span a huge range of possibilities. Companies threw themselves into developing native apps that could capture market share from an ever-increasing smartphone audience.
But is the native app really the best option now?
Though it still has its place, it has a leaner, slicker, easier-to-deploy cousin that is gaining traction fast: the progressive web app. And though there are pros and cons, PWAs are fast becoming the smart choice.

What Is a PWA?

A PWA is basically a hybrid of web page and mobile application. Unlike traditional apps, they’re developed using Javascript, HTML and CSS. They run on top of a script called a service worker that allows them to run like a regular app in most respects.
This makes PWAs unique in several ways compared to regular native apps.
Native apps still haven’t gone away, as their download numbers indicate. But the PWA is becoming a much more popular option.

Fast and Light

Since they do not rely on as much underlying code, PWAs are much smaller than their native app counterparts. Downloads can be incredibly fast. Uber’s PWA is literally 50 kilobytes—that barely exists in storage space terms.
It can be downloaded almost the very moment you hit the button. And unlike a website, it doesn’t matter how fast or slow the connection is—the app will load instantly.

Ease of Development

It’s a whole lot easier to find a developer who’s comfortable working with Javascript than it is to find one who knows the ins and outs of native app development, so your coding requirements are a lot easier to satisfy than they would be with a native app.
Unlike most native apps, PWAs work across platforms, so you only have to keep track of one code base. That makes it significantly easier to keep track of as opposed to traditional development. You don’t have to worry about the different bugs you’ll find in testing for the iOS and Android versions.
Publishing an app is also significantly streamlined. You’d traditionally have to purchase a developer’s license for Google Play or the App Store, put together an application with the images and text for the store page, submit it and wait for review. That’s not even counting the process of compiling code, which gets slower every update.
PWAs make every step faster.
You don’t have to go through the App Store or Google Play process—just upload to a server. You don’t have to compile code, and updates can often be hot swapped in with ease.

Higher Conversion Rate

One of the fundamental principles of conversion rates is very simple: how many steps are you making people go through? The more there are, the more likely it is you’re losing conversions. PWAs are great for this.
There are two steps to installing a PWA: user lands on URL and user touches “Add to home screen” on the popup that appears. That’s it. There’s no long install and only one page to click through.
That fast install and seamless conversion has paid dividends for some of the largest companies in the world. Just look at AliExpress, which boosted its new user conversions by 104 percent.
Or Twitter Lite, which had a 70 percent increase in tweets sent and a 20 percent reduction in bounce rate. Users appreciate the faster, more seamless experience and they’re more likely to stay with the PWA than the traditional app.

Cost

There are certain costs you incur just to put up an app on Google Play or the App Store. Both Apple and Alphabet charge a nominal developer fee and take 30 percent of any app or in-app purchases through their stores. You don’t have to worry about that with a PWA.
Since it’s self-published, the only fee you’re paying is your own hosting.
Development is also far less expensive. Because a PWA is easier and faster to develop, you don’t have to pay as much in the initial phase. You also don’t have to spend the same amount of time in QA and testing for every update.
That means more time to do other things and more money in your pocket.

Offline Access

Though not every feature can be taken offline, a PWA allows something that would usually be a website to become a web page. Using service workers it can cache resources that it would usually have to go to the web to grab. That lets them keep data around for when it’s needed.
For example, a newspaper PWA might cache the day’s articles so they can be read with or without connection. Or a food or beverage PWA might keep an order history on hand. Strategic use of caching can minimize cellular data use as well, which is a big consideration for any app.
Though native apps support offline access as well, they cannot do it with the same combination of speed and light weight that a PWA can. Websites just aren’t available if the user isn’t connected to the Internet.
The PWA, in short, is the best of both worlds.

The Cons

“All this sounds great,” you might say. “But why do native apps still exist then?”
Though PWAs are taking up more market share, there are still a few things that they don’t support. Android is better at support than iOS is, which is why PWAs are still having some issues on that platform.
Though they’ve fixed at least one major problem, Apple seems hesitant to allow PWAs to make inroads in areas such as camera access, different APIs and access to things like speech recognition. PWAs are also gated from private information on both platforms.
Native apps still have a leg up in some areas, but PWAs are getting closer to being the default option. The many advantages of cost, development time, speed and increased user engagement and conversion are hard to overcome.
Now is the time to embrace the PWA.

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