You might have heard buzz in the industry that Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are set to be the next big thing. Those in the know might tell you they’ll push the mobile web forward, bring parity to web and native apps and provide mobile-specific capabilities to web users. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google came up with the term, and PWAs are seen alongside Accelerated Mobile Pages and Responsive Web Design as a weapon in the fight for a slick mobile user experience.

But if you haven’t read the hype yet – here’s the lowdown. Simply put, a PWA is a website that feels more like an app. For the user, they will load quickly – with no app store involved – can be added to a smartphone home screen, function offline and can send push notifications, making them much more convenient than a traditional web app.

And for a brand, PWA technology presents the opportunity to develop mobile sites that are lightning fast – magnitudes faster than responsive mobile web. They also provide ability to incorporate on-board sensor access for a richer user experience. PWAs are likely to make apps better used and present many opportunities for businesses to better engage customers.

Advantages of adoptioning PWA

So, including a PWA in your digital strategy should be the next natural step in ensuring a rich, cross-platform, user experience. Major brands agree that PWAs offer significant opportunities, and goliaths like BBC and Twitter are already getting in on the act. By taking the best functionality of native apps (those designed for a specific operating system that leverage device functionality to increase speed and performance) and enabling access via a browser and a URL, these forward looking organisations have realised that PWAs can solve real business challenges.

As with many web developments, the real power though lies with the team that develops, tests and maintains an app. In today’s highly competitive environment, it’s not just about having a “cool” application; we know that users are more likely to abandon a program if it has functionality problems, no matter how promising it seems. Some studies tell us that about half of the poor reviews on app stores are based on issues like crashes, network performance, and battery drain – and so, quality assurance is key.

Positively, Progressive Apps have one common source code base to develop for all platforms: web, Android, and iOS – making them easy to maintain and fix. And with Google – the masters of simplicity – behind the development; it’s perhaps no surprise that PWA is relatively easy to adopt. So, developers don’t need to gain new skills, but rather learn new APIs and see how they can be leveraged by their websites. PWA apps leverage two main architectural features for developers to use; Service Workers (which give developers the ability to manually manage the caching of assets and control the experience when there is no network connectivity) and Web App Manifest (the file within the PWA that describe the app, provide metadata specific to the app like icons, splash screens, and more) – and these present significant new opportunities for developers.

For testers, PWAs are still JavaScript-based apps, so tools like Selenium and Appium will continue to work effectively. However, cross-browser testing on desktop and mobile platforms is getting harder and PWA introduces a greater level of complexity than RWD. As with any development of this ilk, new tests (manual and automated) need to be developed, executed, and fit into the overall pipeline. With RWD, the primary challenge was the visual changes driven by form factor. PWA introduces additional complexities due to more unique mobile-specific capabilities, such as no network operation, sensors-based functionality (location, camera for AR/VR, and more) and cross-device functionality as well as dependency on different test frameworks like Selenium, Appium. There may also be a need to instrument the mobile side of the PWA to better interact with the UI components of the app on the devices. Testers must be aware of what PWAs can access and how to keep quality assurance high at the top of their priority list.

Rewriting history?

So the benefits of PWA are clear. Speed, consistency, usability – they’re all great arguments to include PWA in your web strategy. But, you can be forgiven if you’re thinking ‘hang on, haven’t I heard all this before?’. Indeed, many brands are just getting to grips with Responsive Web Design – yesterday’s big trend – which, simply, applies the same code for desktop and mobile site and adjusts the site to respond RWD ensures that the functionality, performance and visual layout of websites are consistent across all digital platforms and various user conditions – but presented challenges to DevOps. Many found that, when you factor in the continuous testing of new features, and guaranteeing your website is working optimally on all browsers, devices, OSes and carrier networks, RWD can be daunting.

So, is PWA just a new headache for web development teams – as they think about new baselines for app responsiveness, assuring the offline experience, interactions with onboard sensors (camera, mic, etc.) – and more?

Forward looking developers will look to overcome the challenges this kind of innovation brings and use PWA as an opportunity to deliver a better user experience. If you’re a developer just starting to move from a .com or a .mob site to a cross-platform web environment, then PWA is a compelling option. Web developers, should base any plan for change around an appropriate product or business milestone such as a next big website release or a complete rebrand; making sure that a move to PWA makes sense, and isn’t just a jump on the latest and greatest bandwagon.

Our recommendations

So, PWA is undoubtedly a revolutionary technology, and the possibilities for businesses are extensive. But, PWA is new. It’s ramping up. It’s likely to be here to stay, but a max exodus from RWD isn’t likely just yet. It’s advisable for developers and brands to base any plan for change around an appropriate milestone; making sure that a move makes sense, and isn’t just a jump on the latest and greatest bandwagon.

PWAs aren’t bulletproof or perfect yet – but represent a growing technology which is set to significantly move the industry –  for designers and developers and the businesses they work for – and for consumers too. And so, it’s important that brands know how, and when, to best leverage them.

Eran Kinsbruner

Eran Kinsbruner


Eran Kinsbruner, lead technical evangelist at Perfecto