Progressive Web Apps Simply Make Sense

Written by Jason Grigsby on

I was recently interviewed separately by a reporter and an analyst who are interested in Progressive Web Apps. Both asked about Progressive Web Apps versus native apps.1

I’m tired of this framing in general and am resistant to spending much time comparing Progressive Web Apps to native apps. I think Progressive Web Apps are a no-brainer for most businesses.

So let me present a simple case for Progressive Web Apps using a series of statements that I believe even native app developers would agree with.2

A coffee cup, smartphone and pads of paper on a desk
Photo by Kaboompics

1. Not every customer or potential customer will have your native app installed

This should be glaringly obvious for most businesses. Potential customers don’t have your app. Existing customers may not have your app installed.

Even those customers who have your app installed may not be on the device where they installed it.

There is a large audience of people accessing the mobile web that you shouldn’t ignore. Comscore found that “Mobile web audiences are almost 3x the size and growing 2x as fast as app audiences.”

A comparison of the Top 1000 Apps vs. the Top 1000 Mobile Web Properties shows that despite apps dominance in usage time, mobile web is responsible for big audiences on mobile. Mobile web audiences are almost 3x the size and growing 2x as fast as app audiences.
The 2016 U.S. Mobile App Report from Comscore

2. You should provide a secure environment for your customers

If you’re collecting credit cards or sensitive information, this is a must. There are good arguments to encrypt everything on the web. New browser features, and even older ones like geolocation, now require SSL. Google recently announced that they will start warning users about sites that don’t use HTTPS.

Running your site under HTTPS is the first requirement of Progressive Web Apps.

Encrypt All the Things home page banner
Encrypt All the Things is an initiative by many major tech companies and Access Now, a non-profit dedicated to defending digital rights, to push for encryption on all web traffic.

3. You should provide a faster web experience for web customers

DoubleClick recently published a study that found that “53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.” Walmart found that3:

  • For every 1 second of improvement they experienced up to a 2% increase in conversions
  • For every 100 ms of improvement, they grew incremental revenue by up to 1%

In short, the faster your site is, the more likely you are to have happy customers and make more money.

Progressive Web Apps are fast. The Washington Post’s Progressive Web App loads new pages in less than a second.

53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes more than three seconds to load. 1 out of 2 people expect a page to load in less than 2 seconds.
Source: The need for mobile speed: How mobile latency impacts publisher revenue by DoubleClick, September 2016

4. Your web customers would benefit from an offline experience

Our data connections are flaky and unreliable—particularly on mobile devices. Providing an offline experience means that people can continue to use your app even when the network lets them down.4

Good news! The secret sauce that Progressive Web Apps use to make websites lightning fast is that they store assets offline.

So if you’ve accomplished #3 above, you’re most of the way towards offline support.

Screenshot of Chrome offline
Chrome's offline dinosaur game

5. Your web users might benefit from push notifications

If you’re eBay, offering web visitors the option to receive a push notification five minutes before the auction ends would be a big win.

Not every business will have use for web push notifications5, but for those that do, they can enhance a web experience and encourage user engagement.

Animated gif of web push notifications
Sample web push notification from the Chromium Blog

6. You can create a text file and some icons

All that’s left to do is to create a manifest file that references icons for the home screen. If you’ve managed to do the previous four steps, this will be easy.

Progressive Web Apps simply make sense

Dan Dascalescu recently wrote an article entitled Why “Progressive Web Apps vs. native” is the wrong question to ask. He is right that it is the wrong question, but I think his argument is too complicated.

Progressive Web Apps versus native is the wrong question because every step on the path to a Progressive Web App makes sense on its own, irrespective of what a company does with their native apps.

Not all of your customers are going to have your app installed. For those who visit via the web, providing them with a better experience will make them happier and generate more revenue for your business.

It’s really that simple.


  1. The reporter’s article was published last week in Fast Company. It’s a good article despite the headline focusing on native versus web. 
  2. At least, a native developer who was looking at the big picture for a business. 
  3. Source: Web Performance Today 
  4. Not every website will lend itself to offline features. The same is true of native apps. The bare minimum experience for a Progressive Web App is for the app to recognize that it is offline and provide an offline fallback page similar to what some native apps do when they are offline. But don’t stop there. The richer the offline experience, the more people will use your app in poor network conditions. 
  5. Push notifications are not required as part of a Progressive Web App. 
Jason Grigsby

Jason Grigsby is one of the co-founders of Cloud Four, Mobile Portland and Responsive Field Day. He spends far too much time obsessing over mobile and the web. Follow him at @grigs.

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You may loose 50% of customers if the page load time is slow, but i could argue that those 50% are the non serious ones because from my experience if i am really seriously looking for something 10+ or even 30+ seconds of load time make absolutely no difference for me!!

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Lots of data says that you're an anomaly if you'll wait that long. Good for you! For business owners who want to maximize their chances of converting a visitor into a customer, they'll want to make sure the site speed doesn't get in the way.

Hi Jason, very good article, thanks for sharing it to the world. I'm interested in PWA and was also starting to learn it concepts and how to's. I'm also presenting it on our weekly klatch some time next month and one thing that I haven't found an answer yet is why should a company consider PWA if they already have a mobile app for their service?

Hi Jason, your article makes complete sense (as always!) but I think Mark asks a good question, & that the considerations may be a little more nuanced. I work for a train company, & there are plenty of reasons why it would make sense for us to adopt PWA tech; push notifications for disruption & in-travel contextual messages , offline support for local storage of e-tickets, & for when the train is travelling through tunnels or areas with patchy network connectivity, etc.

However, how do we deal with the scenario where users who have already installed our hybrid (iOS/Android) app, which already offers some of these features, later switch to web & are prompted to 'install' the PWA? How do we differentiate & avoid confusion between homescreen application icons? And how do we avoid spamming such users by sending push notifications across channels?

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I think Mark asks a good question, & that the considerations may be a little more nuanced.

Thanks for following up. I didn't mean to be snarky in my earlier response, but without more context, I couldn't figure out what to say other than what I already said above.

However, how do we deal with the scenario where users who have already installed our hybrid (iOS/Android) app, which already offers some of these features, later switch to web & are prompted to ‘install’ the PWA?

Google is currently experimenting with a solution to this via a proposed Get Installed Related Apps API.

How do we differentiate & avoid confusion between home screen application icons?

I don't have complete answers here, but I know that there are many companies that have multiple native apps that have to deal with this sort of scenario already. They typically handle it by differentiating the icons, app names, and making sure that if someone calls into support, that the support team has instructions they can use to lead someone to the right place in the app to determine what app is being used and the version of the app.

In short, this is nothing new. It might be new for your company and maybe even for the majority of companies who have apps who may only have one app per platform, but it is solvable and we have good examples to follow.

And how do we avoid spamming such users by sending push notifications across channels?

This is also a problem that already exists with native apps. I know people with iPhones and Kindle tablets. Yes, there are a lot of people who stick to one ecosystem, but you can't guarantee it.

Managing this sort of problem is what companies like Urban Airship specialize in.

(Full disclosure: I was on the advisory board for Urban Airship and own a small number of shares.)

Again, I don't think Progressive Web Apps create new problems here. It is much more likely that they will illuminate problems that already exist.

It's my understanding that PWA's are not-as-yet supported by Safari/iOS.

"Chromium-based browsers (Chrome, Opera etc.) support Web App manifests today with Firefox actively developing support and Edge listing them as under consideration. WebKit/Safari have not yet posted public signals about their intents to implement the feature just yet." - Addy Osmani https://addyosmani.com/blog/getting-started-with-progressive-web-apps/

Replies

Correct. I'm going to write more about this soon, but I don't see the lack of iOS support as an impediment to moving towards a Progressive Web App for a few reasons:

  1. All of the features are progressive enhancement so if a browser doesn't support them, it won't affect people's ability to access the site.
  2. Companies are already choosing to implement features like push notifications despite the fact that push notifications don't work on iOS. Where they work, they enhance the experience.
  3. The biggest advantage to Progressive Web Apps comes from Service Workers. There are some suggestions on WebKit's roadmap page that they are interested in implementing Service Workers. ("Service Workers: Becoming a more frequent request. We should do it.") They also say that Fetch API support is a requisite for Service Workers. The top feature in the Safari Preview Release 13 is the Fetch API.
  4. Companies that have implemented Progressive Web Apps have talked about seeing benefits for iOS users as well as Android users. Ali Express saw and 82% increase in conversion of new users on iOS. That's less than the 104% increase across all browsers, but 82% is nothing to sneeze at. The Washington Post says that they're seeing increased engagement with the Progressive Web App across devices with "Minimal differences between iOS and Android".

The path to building a great Progressive Web App benefits everyone regardless of the device or browser because it focuses on performance improvements and those tend to benefit a wide range of users.

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