Emerging Technology: Progressive Web Apps

One of the more interesting technologies to surface in 2016 has without a doubt been progressive web applications. With incredible results on page sizes, load times, conversion and retention rates, the technology shows promise for almost all types of websites.

Google has been spearheading the project development which started back in late 2015, and since then numerous companies and websites have taken to progressive web apps, reaping all the benefits in the process.

A progressive web app functions somewhere in between the traditional websites, and the conventional mobile applications. They make use of what is called a Service Worker, which is basically a layer between the websites and the internet access points. This means that once a client requests a page on a website, before connecting to the internet, the request will pass through the service worker and then go online if needed.

Furthermore, by using Service Workers in connection with App Shells, it’s possible to contain a complete version of the website locally on each individual device, effectively caching and saving the entire content, including images, videos, CSS stylesheets, JavaScripts and so forth.

progressive-apps

This means that the user will be met by a vastly superior experience in terms of speed and loading times. Some real life case studies have shown improvements of 50-90% in page sizes, greatly reducing the amount of data people need to download before being shown content.

Real life examples

By decreasing the time to load any given page, users are more likely to keep browsing the site and both studies and real data support this theory. FlipKart, a leading Indian online retailer has seen more than 70% increase in their conversion rates since implementing their version of a progressive web app.

Konga, which is a Nigerian online retail store has been working on progressive web apps as well, and have seen a decrease in their page size of a whopping 92%. This means that in theory, their new pages should load around 10 times as fast, although in reality it’s probably closer to 5 times, due to how HTTP and TCP/IP works.

Housing.com is another great example of how to successfully utilize this technology. They’ve increased their conversion by an impressive 38% since installing their progressive web application, managed a 40% lower bounce rate than on their traditional website, and are now the proud owners of a website loading 30% faster than before. Based in India, the company has many users on 2G and 3G networks, and therefore page load speeds are a key ingredient in creating better user experiences, and ultimately achieving better conversion rates.

 

Advantages

Offline Capabilities

Apart from page size and load times, there are plenty of advantages to be had when implementing a progressive web app. A few of these are to do with offline capabilities and caching.

By way of nature, if a user is visiting any website on the internet that is not progressively enhanced, once that user goes offline, the website is inaccessible. However, by installing a service worker to handle offline capabilities, now websites have the option of showing an offline message in their own style, with their own logo and brand identity intact.

The service worker will work together with the browser to show cached pages that user has already visited, but it is even possible for the progressive web app to automatically download and cache the entire website, regardless of whether the user has visited specific pages or not.

This means that the very first time a visitor enters a website with a PWA, that user then silently downloads a cached list of all stylesheets, images and other content which they can then browse through whether offline or online.

 Add To Home Screen

Another very interesting feature is the fact that Google Chrome, Opera and other browsers are now supporting the Add To Home Screen features. This means that once a user has visited an eligible site twice, that user is then asked if he or she wants to install the progressive web app on their device, similar to installing a normal mobile app, but without the need to download it via Google Play or the App Store.

While we’ve had the functionality in place to let users bookmark their favorite sites and then have an icon on their phones for easy access, this takes it to another level. Since users no longer have to be online to use the website in question, this entire technology feels like a regular mobile application in the most important ways.

Push Notifications

For websites with regular content updates, for e-commerce sites eager to tell their visitors about their latest products, and for other sites with an interest in reaching their users with news and updates, progressive web applications might be interesting for yet another reason.

Now it is possible to have push notifications on smartphones and tablets, without the need for designing a full-on mobile application and submitting that to the official app stores.

This is promising because studies have shown that users are more likely to click through on their notifications than to click an e-mail newsletter for instance. While push notifications should not replace e-mail marketing at all, it is however a great addition to any marketing teams toolbox, allowing for creative and effective strategies and tactics.

Apart from push notifications, there are even the possibility for adding hardware functionality into the progressive web app, using the camera, microphone and other common features readily available for developers to plug into and use.

Disadvantages

With fear of sounding biased, there really aren’t that many negative aspects to be concerned about when considering developing a progressive web app for an existing website.

Apart from the price it costs to develop the PWA itself, it is hard to find reasons why not to. While not every major browser on the market out there support progressive web apps and service workers (Safari being one of the major ones,) nothing will break if users visit the website and their client or browser doesn’t support PWA. In fact, the page will display just as before.

Of course, if a large percentage of visitors to any given site is browsing from iOS and iPhones, it makes sense not to implement progressive web apps immediately. But according to statistics from various sites, Android users are in the majority worldwide, with more than 85% of all devices running on the open-source operating system.

Conclusion

Based on the impressive results seen so far from market leaders implementing progressive web applications, this author suggests any business serious about improving their conversion rates, page load times and pos.

 

Author bio:
Mark Pedersen has written numerous posts on all things digital, ranging from Open-Source projects to custom code tutorials, but his main interest lies in writing about new and emerging technologies. During the day he works as a programmer at Nodes, a leading European agency specializing in enterprise app development.