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Analytics and Serving

Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

Technology summary

Mobile phone apps used to have advantages over traditional web pages. The most important are:

  • Fast and reliable performance
  • Work offline
  • Access to the phone's sensors
  • Support for push notifications
  • An icon on the phone‘s home screen
  • Detectability and availability in app stores

PWAs are browser based web applications (HTML5/CSS/JavaScript). By using the latest browser features, they implement native app-typical capabilities and features, including all listed above. Running in a separate browser window without address bar, they are visually and functionally near-indistinguishable to apps. There is also desktop support for Windows and Mac.

‘Progressive‘ means: A PWA must be designed to maintain basic functionality even if run offline and/or on a browser that does not support some features.

PWAs depend on browser support. De facto driver is Google since ~2016, Microsoft and Firefox are following, but Apple is notably slow to support PWAs. Since 2018, Safari (the mandatory rendering engine for all browsers on iOS) supports a key feature needed for PWAs, ‘Service Worker‘ (for caching), but still lacks others.

PWAs don’t install in the classical sense. An icon is added to the screen and advanced browser caching is used. The browser provides a secure execution environment to which PWAs are ‘installed’.

Business Benefit of PWA for Pinterest

Business Benefit of PWA for Pinterest (source)

Technology evaluation

The usage of PWAs has significant advantages but also some disadvantages, which must be carefully weighed.

PROS:

  • PWAs have the potential to reduce development cost by using one source code basis and common skills (e.g. JS) for both web pages and iOS / Android.
  • In particular retailers have achieved significant business benefits with PWAs (landmark example: Flipkart).
  • B2B companies are not as reliant on app store presence for discovery and monetization. PWAs enable them to efficiently support mobile as part of a unified digital experience.
  • Some app stores begin to embrace PWAs. They are presented as a separate app store category in Samsung's app store. Also, Google started to deploy PWAs rather than apps with their play store (e.g., Twitter).

PWAs in Samsung's App Store

PWAs in Samsung's App Store (source)

CONS:

  • PWAs depend to a large degree on users having the latest browser.
  • Android’s and iOS’s developer frameworks, tools, and documentation are superior. Developer skills for PWAs are rarer.
  • Very specific requirements still need native coding, so PWA usage is always a case-by-case decision. In particular, PWAs are limited on background execution.

Market - Current Adoption

Although the concept is several years old, there was no breakthrough year for PWAs yet. As former hurdles vanish, 2020 is (once again) predicted to be that year.

Market - Outlook

Software AG considers developer skills and the buy-in of the developer community in general, and the iOS community in particular to be the most important hurdles for PWA adoption. This standpoint is also supported by this (non-professional) survey. There will probably never be a ‘breakthrough year’, instead a slow but steady growth.