April 23, 2024
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PWAs: A Powerful Part of your Mobile App Strategy, But Not a Standalone Solution

John Arnsdorf

In today’s mobile-first world, businesses need a robust mobile app strategy to reach and engage with their target audience. While native apps have traditionally been the go-to solution, progressive web applications (PWAs) have emerged as a compelling alternative, and may have you considering a PWA-first strategy.

PWAs offer a wealth of benefits, including increased reach, reduced development costs, and an improved user experience. However, PWAs are limited in their ability to access native device features and the end user experience can be significantly impacted when changes to the platforms they run on are introduced by Apple and Google.

So, given the limitations of PWAs, why should you consider including one in your mobile app strategy? To answer this question, let’s take a deeper look at the benefits that PWAs provide as well as their limitations.

Benefits of Building a PWA

Progressive Web Applications are an important tool for businesses looking to reach a wider audience with their mobile app. They offer a number of advantages over traditional native apps, including:

  • Increased Reach: PWAs can be accessed from any device with a web browser, which means you can reach a broader audience than you could with a native app. Unlike native apps, which require users to download and install the app from an app store, PWAs can be accessed by simply visiting a URL in a web browser. This makes it easier for users to discover and try your app, and it eliminates the friction of having to download and install yet another app.
  • Reduced Development Costs: PWAs are built using web technologies (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), which means they can be developed faster and cheaper than native apps. A single codebase can be used to create a web app, a PWA, and even a native app (using tools like Ionic Capacitor, which we’ll discuss later). This can save businesses a significant amount of time and money in the development process while leveraging the team and skills they already have in-house.
  • Improved User Experience: Users can enjoy a similar experience with a PWA as they would with a native app. They provide many of the same features as native apps, such as push notifications, offline functionality, and home screen icons. Additionally, PWAs can leverage the capabilities of the web browser to provide features that are not possible with native apps, such as the ability to work across different devices and platforms.
  • Improved Discoverability: PWAs can be indexed by search engines, which means users can discover your app through organic search and you get maximum benefit from your SEO efforts. This is a major advantage over native apps, which can be difficult for users to find unless they know exactly what they are looking for.
  • Reduced App Store Friction: Get your app in front of users faster than ever. Because they’re not part of any app store, PWAs bypass the app store approval process, which can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience for developers. 
  • Offline Functionality: PWAs can be designed to work offline, which means that users can still access some of the app’s features even when they don’t have an internet connection. This is a valuable feature for users who may be in areas with spotty internet coverage.
  • Faster Load Times: PWAs are typically much faster to load than native apps, especially on devices with slow internet connections. This is because PWAs can leverage the caching capabilities of the web browser to store frequently accessed resources.
  • Always Up-to-Date: Users don’t need to worry about constantly downloading/installing updates, as PWAs are always up-to-date because they are delivered through the web browser. 
  • Easy to Share: PWAs can be easily shared with others by simply sharing a URL. This makes it easy for users to spread the word about your app to their friends, family, and colleagues.

Disadvantages of Relying on a PWA

While there have been recent developments that are blurring the lines between progressive web applications and native apps, PWAs are still limited in their ability to access some critical device features. Before making the decision to build and launch a PWA as your only mobile app experience, be sure to consider their limitations.

  • Limited Native Device Functionality: PWAs have limitations when it comes to accessing certain native device functionality. This includes features like biometric authentication, secure storage, and contacts. These limitations can restrict the functionality of your app, hinder the user experience, or put sensitive data at risk.
  • Potential for Performance Issues: PWAs are web-based applications, and their performance can be impacted by factors like internet connection speed. This can lead to slower load times and a less responsive user experience compared to native apps.
  • App Store Visibility: If your users are used to finding apps in the app stores, then it may be more difficult for them to discover a PWA. PWAs don’t appear in traditional app stores like the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, so users will need to search for them differently than they’re used to.
  • Limited Push Notification Capabilities: On some platforms, PWAs may have limitations with push notifications. While features are constantly evolving, native apps typically offer a more robust and reliable push notification experience.
  • Platform Dependence: While PWAs are designed to be device-agnostic, there can be some variations in functionality and user experience depending on the specific device and operating system being used. This can lead to inconsistencies for users across different platforms.

The Best of Both Worlds: Build a Hybrid App with Ionic Capacitor

So, what’s the best approach? The answer, for many companies, is to build a hybrid app using the tools provided by Ionic. Using Capacitor, Ionic Framework, and a suite of commercial plugins, your developers can build a PWA, providing a native-like experience, and deliver it as an enterprise-grade native app all from a single code base.

By expanding your mobile app strategy to include a web app, PWA, and native app, you get all the benefits of a PWA (increased reach, reduced development costs, and better discoverability) as well as the benefits of a native app (security, access to all native device features, and an app store presence) with minimal effort from your development teams.

Get Started

Our team can provide expert guidance and assistance from project scope to launch and beyond. Ready to get started? Reach out to one of our team members to schedule a demo.

To learn more, download the complete “The Architect’s Guide to Progressive Web Apps” ebook.

John Arnsdorf