A Progressive Web App, or PWA for short, is a hybrid website that has the same features as a classic smartphone app. However, these web apps are accessed via a browser.
Progressive Web Apps are indexed by Google like regular websites and could play an important role in mobile optimization in the future.
But are these progressive apps serious competition for native apps? What exactly differentiates them from classic web apps? We show you how Progressive Web Apps work and explain the advantages.
Do you need support with app development for your store? As Shopify experts, we are happy to assist you. Contact us.
Progressive Web App Definition: What is a PWA?
Progressive web apps (PWA) are a further development of existing web apps and have all the advantages of a native app. However, they don't need to be installed first and are much easier to create, crawl, and visit.
A Progressive Web App is accessible via a URL on the Internet and runs directly in the browser - so it can basically run on different operating systems. Unlike a traditional web app, Progressive Web Apps can also run offline. The loading times are often lower than for common websites and they can adapt to any screen size thanks to their responsive design. Since a PWA can be accessed via a URL just like a website, companies can also benefit from search engine optimization.
The new app format was introduced by Google. It is therefore not surprising that progressive web apps have so far been designed primarily for use with the Android operating system. On iOS devices, they usually only run with restrictions. However, a lot will certainly happen here in the future, because the technology is still in its infancy in some places. Google has also confirmed that it wants to invest in further development.
Some progressive web app examples of noteworthy brands are Pinterest, Uber, WhatsApp, and Airbnb.
Reading tip: Mobile commerce is becoming increasingly important. In this article, we show you the most important facts.
How do Progressive Web Apps work?
PWAs work on the basis of so-called "service workers". In short, these are Java scripts that enable content to be loaded in the cache in the background. Progressive Web Apps can also work offline, as no Internet connection is required.
When a Progressive Web app is developed, the tasks of the service workers are defined and stored as a script. In this way, program sequences can be defined, each of which triggers predefined events depending on certain events. This enables the content of the PWAs to be loaded even before a link is clicked. Depending on user interaction, the app therefore already knows what content is being requested and does not have to reload it via the Internet connection. This means that users do not have to put up with long loading times, which significantly enhances the user experience.
Reading tip: Learn how to test website speed with Shopify.
In addition, an application shell is required so that the PWA can work with any browser. This guarantees that a mobile view of the URL is generated and the app is adapted to the functionality of the respective browser. It also ensures that the design of the PWA resembles a native app. The application shell is loaded into the cache when the PWA is invoked.
Another important component for Progressive Web Apps to work is the Web App Manifest of a JSON file that is stored on the server. This makes it possible for the users of the PWA to save the app on their end device after invoking it like a conventional app.
Native vs. Progressive Web Apps - the Differences
Since PWAs are a new development in the field of app applications, there are of course crucial differences to previous technologies.
Probably the biggest difference between progressive web apps and ordinary native apps is that PWAs run in the browser. Even though they are installed on a mobile device and behave like traditional apps, the browser is still active in the background.
This also results in certain limitations. For example, the iOS browser Safari does not support all the features of PWAs. However, the development of PWA technology is still in an early phase. It can therefore be assumed that further functions and improvements will follow.
Reading tip: With these tips you will succeed in online store optimization.
Most apps today are often no longer "normal" apps, but so-called hybrid apps that are also executed via a browser. A hybrid app is basically also a website - but it is programmed with certain native app technologies. The combination of web and native app technologies means that hybrid apps hardly differ from conventional apps. However, the programming of these apps is much higher compared to a progressive web app.
Progressive Web App: Advantages at a Glance
Progressive web apps are designed to combine the advantages of websites and apps while avoiding their disadvantages. More and more companies are taking advantage of this.
Here's a summary of how a PWA can benefit you:
You benefit from significantly less expensive development than with native apps.
The maintenance of the PWA requires less effort.
You are not tied to an app store and can promote and advertise your PWA yourself.
All content can be indexed and thus rank in search engines.
The content can also be used offline.
Users can use the PWA content with every possible mobile device.
What does this mean for you exactly? First, your customers can browse your store even if their Internet connection is poor. The prerequisite is that they have already visited your site when they had a connection to the Internet. Functions that then actually have to be done online (e.g. paying or sending an order) can be made up for later. The PWA stores the current state for an indefinite period of time. Processes that require an Internet connection start in the background as soon as the device has a connection again. Once a customer has "installed" your PWA, its permanent presence ensures that they always remember your store and can reach it quickly. All it takes is a simple tap to navigate to it. Moreover, it's not easy to get placed in the Play or App Store in the first place. An app has to go through a lengthy process to do so, which often ends in rejection. With a PWA, you also bypass this problem and have the freedom to decide where and how to promote your app.
Reading tip: Learn more about app development with Shopify.
Conclusion: How can Progressive Web Apps be used in a Shopify Store?
As you could notice, the advantages of progressive web apps are obvious and promising. The apps don't require a download, are automatically updated every time they are called up, and don't necessarily require an Internet connection.
Moreover, for an existing online store, upgrading to a PWA is relatively easy. However, for the integration of more extensive functions into the PWA, it is advisable to consult an expert. For Shopify, there are some apps in the App Store to turn your Shopify store into a progressive web app. The benefit: A progressive web app would allow your customers to browse through your Shopify store and view your products offline!
Besides the option of implementing PWAs through Shopify apps, there is also the option of custom development.
We will be happy to advise you on what makes the most sense for your company! Contact us.
Frequently asked questions about Progressive Web Apps
What is a progressive web app (PWA)?
Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are hybrid websites that have characteristics of classic smartphone apps, but are accessible through a browser and can be used without an Internet connection. Like a website, a PWA can run on multiple platforms and devices with a single code base.
Why should you use progressive web apps?
Progressive web apps combine the strengths of two worlds, as they combine the advantages of native apps and websites. In other words, they are an evolution of the mobile website and offer numerous benefits, such as lower loading times or independence from an Internet connection.
What does a PWA cost?
The development of a PWA involves less costs than that of a native app. There are also no listing costs in app stores, as PWAs can be promoted independently of them.
Are progressive web apps the apps of the future?
Thanks to their sophisticated technical foundations and the great support from Google, it is quite conceivable that progressive web apps will be as widespread on mobile devices as native apps in the future. Numerous companies are already relying on the advantages of these apps, and large as well as smaller companies will join them in the future.
Native vs. progressive web apps - what's the difference?
There are key differences between PWAs and native apps. Progressive web apps are executed in the browser and score with faster loading times and are also not tied to the Play or App Store.