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What are PWAs?: Pros, cons, and considerations

TL;DR: A progressive web app (PWA) is a hybrid of web and mobile apps, offering an app-like experience with benefits such as offline functionality, cost savings, and no need for app store distribution. PWAs are developed using standard web technologies and designed to work across all devices. While they offer many advantages, they may have performance limitations compared to native apps, and face compatibility issues with some browsers and older devices. PWAs can significantly improve user engagement and conversion rates, making them a valuable asset for businesses in the digital marketplace.

In the digital innovation space, you might have encountered the term “PWA.”

But what does it stand for? Progressive web apps (PWAs) occupy a unique niche that blurs the lines between conventional web pages and mobile apps, merging the expansive reach of the web with an app’s intuitive navigation to enhance user engagement.

This PWA-focused blog will navigate through both the pros — like heightened performance — and the cons—such as restricted access to certain device capabilities and inconsistencies in browser support inherent to PWAs.

Keep on reading to find out if using PWAs can make a big difference in how you connect with people online.

Key takeaways

  • Progressive web apps (PWAs) combine website accessibility with native app functionality, using web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript while enabling offline use and device integration through service workers.
  • PWAs provide advantages such as improved user engagement through push notifications and home screen prompts, cost-effective development with a single codebase, and enhanced discoverability due to SEO, but may face browser compatibility issues and lower performance compared to native apps.
  • Designing a PWA involves setting up a secure HTTPS environment, creating a responsive user interface, and implementing service workers and a web app manifest for offline functionality and to dictate the app’s appearance and behavior.
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Understanding progressive web apps (PWAs)

Illustration of a seamless user experience across devices and platforms

Progressive web apps (PWAs) are an innovative type of app that combines the features of standard web pages and native mobile apps.

Developed through specific techniques and conventional patterns, PWAs aim to merge the advantages of website accessibility with the robust capabilities typical of native apps, enhancing mobile browsers to perform more like traditional mobile apps.

PWAs operate within a browser using common web technologies — HTML, CSS, and JavaScript — and their cross-platform nature ensures functionality on a variety of devices.

With abilities similar to those found in native apps, PWAs can execute background tasks, work without internet connectivity, and tap into device-specific features to enrich user interaction.

Designed for versatility across different form factors and operating environments — including desktops or hand-held devices — they employ responsive design practices so users enjoy consistent performance regardless of how they access these progressive web applications.

This flexibility positions them as a universal solution compatible with the wide spectrum of consumer electronics available today.

The technical backbone of PWAs

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) uses a range of standard web technologies, with HTML creating the structural framework, CSS applying styles and aesthetics, and JavaScript introducing interactive features that enhance the user experience.

Specifically within this technological suite, JavaScript plays an integral role by enabling dynamic content updates for example, populating lists with different products — which is vital to crafting an engaging and reactive interface in PWAs.

Service workers are employed within PWAs to provide a seamless user interaction by caching key resources like HTML documents, CSS files, JS scripts, and various images.

These service workers operate as configurable network agents capable of managing how network requests are processed along with orchestrating data synchronization tasks when offline accessibility is required — establishing a resilient technical infrastructure crucial for delivering on the promise of PWAs.

By using these advanced capabilities rooted in web technologies such as service workers for effective resource management (including intelligent caching strategies), PWAs ensure their technology stack maximizes responsiveness regardless of connection quality or availability.

This architecture enables them to deliver experiences similar to native applications through the convenience of standard web platforms.

How PWAs bridge the gap between web and mobile

PWAs have several key features:

  • They look and act like native apps without being confined by a web browser interface
  • They can bypass traditional app store distribution mechanisms by using web technologies
  • They ensure broad compatibility across browsers and devices
  • The application shell of PWAs is cached in the browser, allowing them to emulate the performance characteristics of native mobile apps

PWAs provide a universal, consistent user experience across various devices by automatically adjusting their features to align with the capabilities of each browser. They offer:

  • Offline functionality
  • Integration with the device’s operating system
  • Overcoming the traditional limitations of web apps, thanks to service workers that enable offline access and update processes.

Moreover, they bypass multiple user engagement steps such as download and installation, instead prompting for installation during web browsing, fostering ease of access and engagement.

Fact: PWAs can significantly enhance user engagement and provide a native app-like experience without the need for app store distribution.

Advantages of PWAs

Illustration of enhanced user engagement and app-like experience

Progressive web apps come with a variety of advantages, including the following key benefits:

  • The capability to send push notifications that boost user engagement.
  • An invitation to “Add to Homescreen” which greatly increases interaction from users.
  • The ability for PWAs to be installed directly onto a device without needing an app store simplifies and enhances the experience by creating shortcuts on the home screen.
  • Their design is inherently responsive, meaning they adapt their layout and functionality according to different devices and how users interact with them.

The objective behind these features is clear: capture users’ attention more effectively and provide them with a deeply engaging interactive experience.

Progressive web apps are recognized for substantially improving conversion rates as they deliver swift experiences similar to native apps while being housed within a web browser. Benefits include:

  • Loading pages at lightning-fast speeds which prove invaluable in social media marketing or pay-per-click advertising where timing can be decisive
  • Availability of access points into hardware-specific capabilities like camera usage or NFC technology
  • Use of web storage options allow these apps to mimic traditional app functionalities all within the boundaries set by typical browsers

Progressive Web Apps offer a way to avoid the restrictions and processes of traditional app stores like the Apple App Store and Google Play Store when updating apps.

Instead, updates are done on the server-side, meaning users get the latest version directly through their web connection. This approach can also lead to cost savings because it simplifies the update process.

Tip: Leverage Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to combine the reach of the web with the user experience of an app, enhancing engagement and accessibility while minimizing development costs.

Enhanced user experience and engagement

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) offer a seamless, app-like experience that reduces bounce rates and extends the duration of website visits.

These factors communicate to search engines the relevance and appeal of the web content. The use of push notifications by PWAs plays an integral role in re-engaging users on various devices through timely alerts regarding updates such as order statuses, special deals, reaching millions daily.

Adopting both an app-styled interface along with push notifications within PWAs promotes greater interaction from mobile app users. This allows users to easily opt-in without needing to disclose personal information, which cultivates a sense of loyalty and improves user retention rates.

The superior user experience coupled with enhanced engagement delivered by PWAs stands out as a key factor for maintaining user interest and boosting conversion rates.

Offline capabilities: A game-changer for web apps

Illustration of service workers enabling offline functionality

The introduction of offline functionality has revolutionized web apps, with PWAs at the forefront.

In these apps, service workers play a pivotal role by serving as programmable network proxies that manage how network requests and data sync are handled — key elements for enabling app usage without an internet connection.

Through various caching strategies like cache-first, network-first, and stale-while-revalidate, these service workers ensure users have access to content even when they’re not connected to the web while maintaining a balance between speed of access and the relevancy of information.

For storage purposes in scenarios lacking a network connection, PWAs employ IndexedDB, which allows advanced handling of data such as shopping carts and orders within the app itself.

This stored data can be altered during times without connectivity then synchronized once an internet connection is re-established.

The capability for offline browsing in e-commerce PWAs is particularly illustrative: it enables customer engagement with product catalogs and image viewing independent from their current connectivity state — a testament to how offline features enhance user experience on web apps beyond traditional reliance on stable connections.

Tip: Use the offline capabilities of PWAs to captivate users anytime, anywhere. Service workers cache essential content, enabling access during network downtime and enhancing the overall user experience.

Disadvantages of PWAs

Despite their benefits, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are not without drawbacks:

  • PWAs attempt to merge a web-based environment with an app-like user interface but can fall short in performance when pitted against native apps.
  • Operating within a browser context, PWAs may add extra loading time and consume more battery life — areas where native apps typically excel.

The effectiveness and reach of PWAs also face challenges due to inconsistent support from different internet browsers.

For instance, browsers like Safari and Edge have restricted capabilities for some PWA features, which could affect the quality of the user experience.

While these issues are not too concerning, it's important to think about them when deciding if you should make a PWA or a native app.

Compatibility concerns across browsers and devices

Issues with compatibility may occur for progressive web apps as a result of uneven support across browsers, which can lead to an inconsistent user experience.

Users who operate on older browser versions that lack PWA capabilities are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing these enhanced features.

Chrome, Opera, and Samsung’s own web browser offer support for the Push API in progressive web apps. Efforts are ongoing to integrate this feature into Firefox and Microsoft Edge.

This variation in browser support highlights the challenge of providing a consistent user experience across various web browsers and devices.

Tip: For optimal performance and device integration, native apps outperform PWAs, providing a smoother and more responsive user experience.

Performance trade-offs compared to native apps

Web apps, while providing some benefits over traditional webview apps, encounter certain constraints when compared with native mobile app capabilities.

  • Their reliance on service workers can lead to slower initial load times.
  • They may not achieve the same level of performance that is typical for native platform-built apps.
  • When it comes to executing complex calculations, they might lack the efficiency seen in native apps.
  • The smoothness and integration found in user experiences specific to native apps are often absent because PWAs cannot fully use device hardware features.
  • There tends to be a noticeable difference favoring the more refined interactions within native apps regarding elements such as scrolling and clicking due to a PWA’s web-centric design.

There are notable limitations experienced by PWAs regarding functionalities where a traditional mobile app would excel. These include but not limited to:

  • Delivering push notifications
  • Implementing geofencing techniques
  • Processing mobile payments
  • Engaging with other installed native applications or accessing various smartphone components like built-in sensors

While Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) may not always match the high performance of specialized mobile apps, they distinguish themselves with improved loading speeds and heightened responsiveness across various devices and browsers.

This leads to a generally superior user experience on multiple platforms than what is typically provided by standard web applications.

The business perspective: PWAs impact on revenue and conversion

From a business perspective, PWAs can have a significant positive impact on revenue and conversion. Adopting PWAs can lead to:

  • Up to 30% savings in development costs by using a shared code base for different platforms
  • Further reducing support costs by approximately 33%
  • Boosting conversions by offering a seamless experience across devices and prompting immediate actions like purchases
  • Effectively addressing the gap in mobile conversion rates

Businesses can enhance user engagement and sessions through PWAs, which ultimately contributes to increased traffic and mobile web conversions.

Push notifications in PWAs ensure ongoing user engagement by maintaining visibility with timely and relevant information, including promotions and events. This shows that PWAs can be a key player in driving business growth and improving conversions.

Tip: Using PWAs can enhance user engagement and lower development costs, driving up revenue and conversion rates.

Cost-effectiveness: Single codebase across platforms

From a business standpoint, one of the primary benefits of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) is their ability to cut costs. The advantages PWAs provide include:

  • Lowering developmental and ongoing maintenance expenses by removing the necessity for different apps across various platforms and app stores
  • Consolidating both development and upkeep procedures through using just one codebase that works on all devices
  • Simplifying operations while also accelerating time-to-market

Compared to from-scratch native apps, PWAs are more economical to create because they make use of widespread web technologies which result in reduced expenditures during development.

This efficiency in cost translates into an appealing choice for companies intent on maximizing their investments in technology yet still providing a superior user experience via their app offerings.

Search engine optimization (SEO) and discoverability

Illustration of search engine optimization for progressive web apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) offer several benefits over regular mobile apps.

  • Search engines can index them, which boosts their visibility and contributes to more traffic on the web.
  • They’re accessible directly through URLs and take advantage of typical web searchability as well as SEO practices.
  • There’s no need for users to wade through app stores in order to locate and install these applications.

The advantages PWAs have in terms of SEO include:

  • Adherence to international standards for the web, like support for HTTPS
  • Incorporation of a manifest specific to web apps
  • Enhanced page speed that acts as an important factor for SEO rankings
  • The option for evaluation with tools such as Google’s Lighthouse is available. This helps enhance performance, accessibility, and search engine optimization.

These aspects concerning both SEO and ease of discovery are crucial.

They play a significant role in shaping a company's online presence, which can have a direct impact on its financial success.

Tip: Enhance your PWA's SEO by ensuring it's mobile-friendly, fast-loading, and served over HTTPS, which are key factors for search engine rankings.

Real-world examples of successful PWAs

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) play a crucial role in improving business outcomes and user involvement across diverse sectors.

Some examples of popular PWAs include:

  • Spotify Lite - Spotify's PWA offers a lightweight version of its popular music streaming service, designed for areas with limited bandwidth. It provides a fast, efficient user experience while conserving data usage.
  • Lancôme - Luxury cosmetics brand Lancôme's PWA has significantly increased its mobile revenue. The PWA provides a smooth, app-like shopping experience with quick load times, leading to a higher rate of customer retention and sales.
  • Starbucks - The Starbucks PWA allows customers to browse the menu, customize orders, and add items to their cart, all without an internet connection. It's a perfect example of how offline functionality can enhance the customer experience.
  • Uber - Uber's PWA is designed to make ride booking possible even on low-speed, 2G networks. The core functionality of booking a ride is maintained, ensuring accessibility for users with limited connectivity.
  • Pinterest - After switching to a PWA, Pinterest saw a 60% increase in engagement. The PWA offers a fast, installable, user-friendly interface that has led to increased time spent on the site.
  • Forbes - Forbes' PWA provides readers with an app-like experience, featuring offline reading and faster load times. This has resulted in a significant boost in user engagement and ad viewability.
  • Instagram - Instagram's PWA allows users to take pictures and upload them directly from the web app. It's a lightweight version of the app, providing core functionalities to users on low-end devices.
  • Tinder - Tinder's PWA has reduced load times and offers the same swiping experience as the native app. The PWA is a great alternative for those who do not wish to install the full app.
  • AliExpress - The e-commerce giant's PWA has led to an 82% increase in iOS conversion rates. Users enjoy features like push notifications and the ability to add the site to their home screen for quick access.
  • Trivago - The hotel search engine's PWA provides a user-friendly interface that works offline and sends hotel deals and alerts via push notifications, keeping travelers updated with the latest savings even when they're on the move.

Designing and developing your own PWA

Developing a PWA requires comprehension of its technical components while adhering to industry standards. The process begins with:

  1. Setting up your PWA on a local server using utilities such as Apache, Nginx, or the HTTP-server library in Node.js.
  2. Making sure that it’s hosted under an HTTPS URL which is essential for service worker functionality.
  3. Establishing a manifest file called manifest.json at the root directory level.
  4. Populating this file with key attributes including name, icons, start_url, background_color, and display preferences to dictate how the app initiates and presents itself.

In parallel with these steps are service workers’ responsibilities: they manage network requests alongside augmenting offline capabilities by caching required resources during their installation phase — key aspects contributing to smooth operations even without internet connectivity.

Before launching a PWA to the public, it is crucial to conduct thorough testing in both online and offline scenarios to ensure optimal functionality for end-users in any situation they may encounter.

While developing PWAs may seem complex, with the right knowledge and tools, it becomes a rewarding process for developers who are keen on building sophisticated web apps that are designed to provide strong and enduring user experiences across multiple platforms, including those with intermittent or no internet access.

Tip: When designing a PWA, focus on creating a seamless user experience that mirrors native apps. Employ a mobile-first design approach, ensure your app is responsive across all devices, and take advantage of service workers for offline capabilities. Remember, a well-designed PWA should be fast, reliable, and engaging to keep users coming back.

Getting started with PWA development

When you start designing your PWA, responsiveness, compatibility with different platforms, user interaction, and engagement are crucial. A user-centric interface for a PWA should be developed using organized navigation and responsive design elements crafted through HTML and CSS.

Visual Studio Code and other IDEs can be used for writing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript when creating content for your PWA.

HTTPS setup is crucial for PWAs to operate securely, as service workers, enabling offline functionality and other features, require a secure context.

To avoid potential compatibility issues and ensure better security, it’s recommended to:

  • Upgrade the server operating system to a more recent version before setting up HTTPS.
  • Diagnose and fix the configuration issues as part of the HTTPS setup process.
  • Use server logs and commands like ‘nginx -t’ as valuable tools for this purpose.

Key components: Service workers and manifest files

A web app can function offline thanks to service workers, which are essential for caching resources on the local machine and handling network requests. They play a pivotal role in managing how content is stored and retrieved.

Here’s some crucial information about service workers:

  • To improve performance by immediately activating a waiting service worker, Self.skipWaiting() is used.
  • It is during the setup phase that key assets such as CSS files, JavaScript files, fonts, an HTML page designated for offline use, and the root of the app get cached.
  • The variable cacheName holds significant importance when checking for updates to items already held within the cache.

The web app manifest file is a simple JSON text file that dictates how your Progressive Web App (PWA) appears to the user in areas where they would typically see apps (for instance, the mobile home screen), direct what the user can launch, and more importantly, how it launches.

It defines the PWA's name, the start URL, icons, and all other details necessary to transform the web app into a 'native' app-like experience.

The manifest provides configuration and presentation to the PWA, enabling it to be 'installed' on the user's device, embodying a full-screen or standalone experience, and integrating seamlessly with the operating system's task switching and settings.

By following the W3C manifest specification, developers ensure a consistent and predictable behavior across all devices and platforms, enhancing the user experience and engagement.

The evolution and future of progressive web apps (PWAs)

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) have emerged as a significant force in redefining user experiences on the web.

Looking ahead, the future of PWAs is bright, with ongoing improvements in browser technologies and mobile hardware capabilities.

Innovations in service worker APIs and the introduction of new web standards are set to further enhance the functionality and performance of PWAs.

The potential for PWAs to replace or work alongside native apps is a topic of much discussion. As they become more sophisticated, PWAs may offer an even more seamless experience, blurring the lines between what users expect from mobile applications and web services.

With a focus on performance, accessibility, and an app-like interface, PWAs are poised to become the default choice for many developers and businesses looking to engage users across all platforms without the limitations of traditional app stores.

As we look to the future, the role of PWAs in shaping the web's accessibility, design, and function will undoubtedly be a topic of continued innovation and interest.


In conclusion, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) represent an innovative blend of web and mobile app features, delivering an intuitive, app-like experience across various devices.

They offer significant benefits, notably in user engagement, offline functionality, and cost savings in development. Despite certain performance limitations compared to native apps, PWAs are a compelling choice for businesses aiming to enhance online interaction and accessibility.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) have demonstrated their capacity to enhance user engagement and increase conversion rates, confirming their value in the digital marketplace. With ongoing technological advancements, the influence of PWAs is anticipated to grow, further shaping the landscape of web and mobile application integration.

Frequently asked questions

What does a PWA do?

PWAs, or Progressive Web Apps, are websites that incorporate app-like functionalities aimed at delivering a quicker and more interactive user experience. They enable offline operation and can use device capabilities such as the camera and microphone. Developed with common web technologies, PWAs mimic the user experience provided by apps specific to various platforms.

What are the advantages of installing PWA?

Installing a Progressive Web App (PWA) offers several benefits, such as being cost-effective and providing an offline mode. It also enhances performance and eliminates the need for manual updates while offering platform-specific features. It consumes less bandwidth and is not reliant on app stores for distribution. Compatibility problems with older devices can occur.

What are the main problems with PWAs?

Compared to conventional mobile applications, PWAs lack the battery efficiency of native apps and depend on an internet connection for operation, which poses difficulties for users when it comes to offline mode. This curtails their functionality in relation to standard apps.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of PWA?

Progressive web apps (PWAs) provide a cost-efficient solution with enhanced performance, the ability to function in offline mode, and freedom from the constraints of app stores. They can encounter difficulties when used on older devices.

It is important to take into account device compatibility before deploying PWAs.

How can PWAs impact a business's revenue and conversion?

By diminishing development expenses and boosting user engagement, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) can favorably influence a company’s income and conversion rates, resulting in cost-efficiency and a consistent user experience on various devices.

*DISCLAIMER: This content is provided solely for informational purposes. It is not exhaustive and may not be relevant for your requirements. While we have obtained and compiled this information from sources we believe to be reliable, we cannot and do not guarantee its accuracy. This content is not to be considered professional advice and does not form a professional relationship of any kind between you and LLC or its affiliates. is the industry-leading end-to-end solution for developing, publishing, and maintaining native mobile apps for iOS and Android powered by web content. When considering any technology vendor we recommend that you conduct detailed research and “read the fine print” before using their services.*
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