By Jason Lewis
We’ve all heard of mobile apps and mobile websites. But lately, you may have seen the acronym PWA pop up as “the next big thing”. Rumour has it they’ll eventually replace mobile apps. Do you need to jump on board?
First of all, what is a PWA?
To put it really simply, a Progressive Web App (PWA) is a website with some extra smarts. These extra smarts help bring some of the strengths of mobile apps to the web: they can work offline and look and feel like a regular mobile app on your device.
To add a PWA to your device, you simply navigate to the appropriate website and accept the prompt to install the PWA. This website could be behind a login making it easy to manage who can access it.
To understand the strengths and weaknesses of a PWA, it’s important to consider the alternatives, and the pros and cons of each.
If your company has ever planned on having a digital solution built either for internal use or as an external product, chances are you might have considered mobile app. Mobile apps are popular because they are easy to find via app stores, and can be accessed right on your device – each app lives as an icon on your dashboard. It can also work offline when the internet is not available or if you are looking to limit your data consumption.
On the other hand, app stores present issues for development and deployment. Apps submitted to app stores are subject to lengthy review processes, and they could be rejected outright. Developers would have to pay subscription costs as well. Jumping through all these hoops can also make apps slow to update, on top of app store limitations. Mobile apps must be made available to everyone if they are to go through an app store. While you can bypass app stores to avoid this, enterprise distribution methods are much more expensive.
If you are looking to have an online presence that is easily accessible on a mobile device, a website might be another option you might have considered. Websites allow you to bypass app store submissions and review processes, and you can easily update and publish your website right away. You can also control who can access your website via logins, and restrict access as needed. Developers do not need to pay subscription costs.
Websites require an internet connection at all times. They are nowhere near as easy to access on mobile devices, as users would have to remember your URL and find it through their browser app – you can’t just download it from an app store and have an icon live on your screen. You will also incur hosting costs.
Because PWAs have offline capabilities, they are easily able to work when there is no (or spotty) internet access. They can also be saved as an icon on your device for easy access later. Because PWAs are hosted on a web server like a traditional website, there is no need to wait for app store review processes to update the app. You simple update the app on the server like a website and it will be refreshed on users devices.
Because PWAs are hosted on a web server and not distributed through the app stores, they aren’t as easy to find as a regular mobile app. You have to find a way to get the user to your site to get it. In the case of Apple devices, adding an icon for the app also isn’t a straightforward process. You will also incur hosting costs like a traditional website.
If PWAs are so great, what’s the catch?
PWAs are still in the early days and like many technologies, they can work well for many use cases but they do still have some drawbacks. They are still not discoverable through app stores so you would have to direct users to your website in order to download the PWA. PWAs also can’t yet offer the full range of mobile device capabilities that a regular mobile app can provide, because they are still based on browser/web technologies (as opposed to a custom-developed native mobile app). Mobile operating systems have different support for the features used by PWAs with Android currently being ahead of iOS. This greatly limits the range of devices your app could run on.
Should Our New Mobile App Be a PWA?
PWAs are certainly worth considering and they’re only going to get more viable as more features are added and performance improves. Here’s some questions to ask yourself before jumping on board with a PWA:
- Is performance not a huge concern?
- It’s not that PWAs are slow, but they’re not as fast as native mobile applications for things like complex games or data-processing apps.
- Is the need for access to device capabilities like fingerprint scanning and Bluetooth required?
- Will you be showing users how to find the app so easy app store availability isn’t an issue?
- Do you need a streamlined and quick process for updating your app?
If you answered yes to these questions, a PWA should definitely be on your list of possible technologies to investigate! At Vertical Motion, we can help you determine which route to take. Contact us today to learn more!