A new mix of websites and mobile applications has been in the works since 2015. Google has dubbed this emerging technology “Progressive Web Apps” and it’s already proving quite successful. By combining offline capabilities like we know from mobile applications, with the speed and flexibility that websites allow PWA’s are building a bridge from the one camp to the other. Implementing a progressive web app on an existing website allows that site to push notifications directly to mobile phones, allows the users to browse the website even when in offline mode, access hardware features such as the accelerometer, camera and microphone to name a few, and all that with better performance than either traditional websites or conventional mobile apps. This article will not go in-depth with exactly what progressive web apps are, instead we’ll focus on what sort of websites can make use of them, and which businesses that should probably invest money into something else instead. Still, to make sure every reader is on the same page, a quick guide to PWA’s will follow.

What are progressive web applications?

A PWA is an add-on to existing websites, and works without added cost to servers or hosting. It is however required that websites wishing to use PWA’s have a secure TSL connection (HTTPS.) It will require a few custom scripts to install a PWA, one for handling offline functionality, and one for handling all data from the online databases. It is possible for users visiting a site with PWA installed to install the progressive app without having to download it through the App Stores, and therefore also possible for website owners to update without having to go through review processes.

Websites that can use Progressive Web Apps to their benefit:

  • Paid-for content

Websites basing their revenue on paid content can have an extra challenge in finding the correct format for showing offline data, and data in general to users with PWA’s installed. However, it goes to reason that if users have already bought access to paid-for content, they should have access to that data regardless of whether they have internet or not. For websites without a mobile application, it is a very logical step to instead implement a PWA, allowing their users full access by downloading the PWA to their Home Screen, just like a normal app.

  • News and Blog sites

For news sites basing their income on advertorials, sponsored posts, and other static advertisements where the price is fixed, meaning that it does not depend on number of clicks or impressions, adding a PWA makes great sense. Having articles ready regardless of users having internet access or not, makes for a great user experience, and the added icon adds increased chances of repeat visitors. Similarly to news sites, bloggers might find a great companion in PWA’s. Not all blogs rely on AdSense or other dynamic networks paying by CPC or CPM, and can thus freely implement this emerging technology without any significant drawbacks.

Another obvious choice for Progressive Web Applications are eCommerce stores. By allowing customers to access the product catalog offline opens up for a brand new shopping experience, and the ball is still very much up in the air with regards to creative solutions and innovation in this area. Once people have downloaded the PWA, which takes almost no time, they are then shown the store icon on their devices, and are now eligible for push notifications. While it’s not advisable to post every single product in the notification feed, it’s possible to create engaging notifications on a regular basis. Most eCommerce stores of the medium to small size have struggled to justify the cost of developing mobile applications natively, but with the relatively low cost of implementing a PWA, online retailers can draw upon all the benefits for a fraction of the cost. Consider the fact that the indian eCommerce giant Flipkart tripled their time-on-site after implementing one of these, and they saw a 70% increase in conversions coming from the Home Screen. AliExpress saw upwards of a 100% increase in their conversion rates too, lending more weight to the claim that PWA’s increase conversion rates.

Websites that probably won’t benefit from a PWA

  • Advertisement based websites

Since PWA’s offer offline capabilities it stands to reason that websites basing their revenue primarily on advertisements will not be too interested in implementing full-on offline features, since ads by their nature requires internet access. Perhaps with time, this will change, and depending on the monetization model, it might be feasible to implement PWA’s on ad heavy sites. While not as difficult for websites just complimenting part of their revenue with advertisements, it still poses an extra challenge besides the technical implementations, and it might be wise to wait for competitors to pioneer the way, using their resources and time to pave the road. Of course, the other features of progressive web apps, such as improved performance, and better conversion rates might still make ad based websites interested in the technology, but allowing users to browse their content offline seems sort of utopian, considering the website won’t earn ad revenue of those users.

Implementing progressive web apps

WordPress users can take full advantage of this concept by downloading a set of plugins developed by Mozilla. These plugins will in turn enable push notifications, JSON manifests and Service Workers, thus only requiring the website to be set up on a secured TLS connection. We’ve tested this feature with a demo WordPress blog, which Google Chrome immediately recognized as being PWA enabled and thus prompted us to add the website to our home screens. These plugins work out of the box, and offers little in way of customization in terms of the service worker, but that’s due to the nature of how technical these are. Website owners not running on WordPress need not be left in the dark. Google’s Developer portal has great guides on how to getting started with several examples and code snippets to get ones feet wet. However, implementing this outside of a CMS will require custom development and coding, and due to the complexity of service workers, basic HTML and PHP skills are not nearly enough to develop a fully fledged offline app-like website. Still, having the basic service worker as by Google’s example will allow for better performance in itself, since they already implement the caching functionality and various offline messages as well.

The future of progressive web applications

While both Google Chrome and Opera have been supporting this concept since it’s inception, other browser’s have been reluctant to jump on board with both feet. Microsoft, who is responsible for Internet Explorer, have stated in a blog post from July 2016, that they are currently working on adding this feature into their browser. Apple with their Safari browser on the other hand have yet to mention anything public in this regard. Perhaps they are working on their own concept, or just biding their time, waiting to see whether this concept has legs to stand on.

Conclusion

The future implementation of progressive web apps, and the consequent results, will determine exactly how widely used this technology will become. While still early days for PWA’s, there are significant advantages to be had. Although not all browsers currently support progressive web apps, and mobile app development is still very much feasible and recommended, this might change in the coming years.

Mark Pedersen

Mark Pedersen

Contributor


App Developer at Nodes