In short, a progressive web app, or PWA, is a version of a website that behaves just like a native app on a mobile device.
The PWA version of the website loads in a chrome-less browser window, like when you enable full-screen mode and all the controls and window edges are hidden. As far as the user is concerned they’ve launched a native app. PWAs even have an app icon on the home screen.
Although not yet widespread, largely due to mobile browser limitations especially on iOS Safari, PWAs are, in my humble opinion far superior to native mobile apps for these reasons:
- It’s your website, with a few enhancements to enable it to function as a PWA. This means you need only publish your content once, to your website as normal, and it will work on (almost) any mobile device.
- Make any brand enhancements and these will be reflected on the app quickly – no need to issue an update as a native app would require.
- Developing a website is far less expensive than developing the same app to run on every platform.
- Native apps need to take into consideration the feature set of each and every model of device and this means extra development for every mobile operating system e.g. Android, iOS, Windows Mobile etc. Extra development means extra time and extra costs. And every time an update is issued to an operating system the native apps have to be tested on it to ensure viability.
Support for PWAs is growing with Google announcing in November 2017 that they will be replacing Chrome apps with PWAs and Microsoft has added support to Windows 10 for PWAs to function as desktop apps. Although there’s no official date it won’t be long before Apple enables support on Safari so it’s a good time to start considering a PWA for your business.