Progressive Web Apps (PWAs): the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Weigh the pros and cons to determine if a PWA is the right choice for your clients.

Mobile apps continue to grow in popularity. In 2022, a Top Design Firms survey found that 48 percent of small businesses had a mobile app to connect with their customers, and 27 percent planned to launch one in the near future. However, companies have to decide whether to develop a native app or a progressive web app (PWA).

The Plusses of Progressive Web Apps

PWAs work like native apps, but instead of requiring a user to download them from an app store, they work directly from a web browser, so they take up minimal memory on a smartphone. Pre-caching allows the app to stay up to date, so the most recent version is available when a user opens it.

But in addition to benefits for users, PWAs also have benefits for developers:

  • They are built with web technologies, such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which many developers are familiar with, unlike building a team to create apps for iOS, which takes resources with specialized skills.
  • PWAs are developed from a single code base for any device.
  • Developers can leverage web plugins to develop PWAs to help keep development time and costs low.
  • You can use HTTPS to enable secure data exchange in contrast with native apps that require additional security measures, like multifactor authentication (MFA).
  • PWAs are “offline-first,” using content from the cache before contacting the server. Using service worker APIs, it’s possible to create seamless offline experiences.

Examples of PWAs

Starbucks

In addition to Starbucks’ popular mobile apps, the company launched a PWA for online ordering. It’s available without a network connection and helped the company double online orders, with desktop users now nearly equaling mobile users.

Uber

Uber ‘s PWA was able to achieve a fast first-page load, and the transition between pages is responsive, making interactions fast and efficient. The super-lightweight PWA is compatible with any modern browser and provides a positive user experience, even for riders with low-end devices.

Pinterest

With its PWA, Pinterest reduced the size of its app’s core bundle from 650 KB to 150 KB and decreased the time to interaction from 20 seconds to 5.6 seconds.

What’s the Downside of PWAs?

Even though the list of PWA pros is long, there are also some cons. For example, they can have limits to their functionality on some operating systems, particularly iOS. Additionally, they can’t take advantage of all device capabilities, which can impact access to NFC, Bluetooth, proximity sensors, camera controls, or geofencing. They can also quickly eat up battery power.

Another downside is that users don’t find them in an app store. As a result, app developers lose the marketing opportunity to increase their brand visibility and showcase their apps there.

What’s the Best Path Forward?

If a business currently has a native app and is exploring a PWA, it’s smart to encourage your client to have both. With this strategy, the native app can continue to provide the experiences users are accustomed to, while the PWA can offer interactions via app to a new segment of users that may need to use a browser.

On the other hand, a business launching a first app may consider only a PWA if the app doesn’t depend on device functionality or compatibility with all iOS devices.

App developers should also look for opportunities to develop PWAs for businesses to use internally, for example, for field workers in utility, mining, or construction companies. With pre-caching, these users can gain offline capabilities, and with the company controlling the devices that employees use, the app can be designed to work optimally with them.

The idea of creating apps for the web is less than two decades old, but these lightweight apps that load quickly, work offline, and keep development costs low are increasing in popularity. Evaluate your business and consider whether developing PWAs is a smart step forward for you and your clients.

Mike Monocello

The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.


The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.