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What are Progressive Web Apps, and why should you build one?

Progressive Web Apps have been around for a few years as new technologies have come about that make them possible to build and run. They offer users an app-like experience but with the reach of a web browser.

When we think about the features of apps, there are some features that we don’t see when apps or sites run on a browser. These features might be things like:

  • Push notifications
  • The ability to work offline
  • Having the look and feel of an app

With a progressive web app users have all of these app-like features as well as the search and reach of a browser. They are a combination, or hybrid, of the two, giving the user far more options.

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What are the features and characteristics of progressive web apps?

The Google developers site describes progressive web apps as ‘fast, reliable and engaging.’ But what features can you expect from them that enhance your mobile experience?

One of the key features of progressive web apps is that whilst they can be added to a user’s home screen, they don’t need to be downloaded through an app store. Where you are offered PWA will recognise that a user has visited the site multiple times and offer to download the PWA to their home screen.

Once on the home screen it can be accessed without opening a browser, yet it was downloaded without going through an app store as the other apps that appear on your home screen are.

Whereas it might take time for a website to load, progressive web apps must load instantly, which means they must also load up when offline. This gives users a far quicker and better experience.

In fact, one of the key differences between a mobile site and a progressive web app is the technology behind it. Progressive web apps use a Service Worker. This technology allows there to be content available offline, as well as making more content is available offline the more users interact with it.

A DoubleClick survey shows that users will navigate away from a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load on mobile. Progressive web apps are able to open instantly, giving them an edge in this fast-paced mobile-first environment.

Progressive web apps are able to send notifications. Whilst this is also the case with some mobile sites, when coupled with the other features we’ve discussed, the ability to send notifications like a native app drives engagement with users as they are used to this as part of their usual ‘app’ user experience.

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Why should you consider developing a progressive web app?

There are many advantages to developing a progressive web app. This new technology can give users a far better experience that either accessing a site on mobile or downloading a native app.

Initial research shows that progressive web apps have a far higher rate of engagement than native apps or mobile web. Given their hybrid nature, they give users the best of both worlds, so it would seem natural that they respond to that.

The Washington Post launched their progressive web app in 2016 and reported that they have five times as much engagement from users who access the newspaper this way. They are working towards making the progressive web app the only mobile user experience available, based on these great results. Forbes has also followed and launched a progressive web app to replace their mobile site earlier this year.

Progressive web apps also give you the option to be able to offer your users the same experience wherever they choose to access your site. Even your existing customers might not have downloaded your native app. A progressive web app gets around this, offering the same user experience, and features, to everyone, every time.

There is a growing number of people who are using the mobile web as their first, and sometimes only, point of web access. Creating a progressive web app gives them the best possible experience when they are able to make full use of your site as well as access features that you might have otherwise put into a native app.

Having offline access as a feature in these apps is also great for your users. The user experience on mobile is usually dependent on network access. As we all know, networks can sometimes be patchy. By giving your users access to an offline experience you are creating a better overall experience for them, that will also increase engagement.

The future of progressive web apps

Currently iOS doesn’t support progressive web apps in the same way that Android does. You aren’t able to download the app to your home screen.

Some have seen this as a sign that progress will therefore be slow, but, on the contrary, the fact that they give users such an enhanced experience means that iOS users are able to enjoy that enhanced experience, even if they can’t access it from their home screen.

Their success lies in the fact that they offer such a great user experience. They encourage high engagement and offer a seamless experience as users can go from a URL to an offline experience and back without interruption. This kind of user experience increases engagement and where there is more engagement there will be more businesses and brands hoping to sprinkle some of this new secret ingredient in their tech mix.

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