Person Holding a Smartphone, Loading a Progressive Web App | Woodruff

The DNA of PWAs

When a client came to us and said they wanted to create a native application (app) for their sales representatives to use on their tablets, our first priority (as always) was to listen to their goals for the app. They wanted to access this app from a device’s home screen and have connectivity independence, all while maintaining that app feel. However, the clients also shared that having the ability to work with various systems and devices would be a bonus. This is what sparked our idea to build them a progressive web application, or PWA.

A PWA blurs the lines between web and mobile. It works in a browser yet offers native app functionality. When Google’s senior software engineer Alex Russell coined the term “progressive web app,” he referred to them as “just websites that took all the right vitamins.” So why all the buzz? PWAs offer several advantages — let’s talk about a few of them.


Hence the name: PWAs are progressive. While native apps are specific to the device and not accessible on a desktop, a PWA can expand into other devices. They’re optimized for whatever technology you’re using, whether that is a desktop, mobile phone or tablet. Since they aren’t tied to any particular app store, a website that is a PWA is searchable and accessible via Google. And with its linkable feature, users can easily share the URL without any time-consuming installations.


The ability to work offline is perhaps one of the most convenient features of a PWA. Working offline allows for designated app content to be accessible at locations that don’t have a connection. This is done by caching the app data ahead of time through the use of a service worker. “Service workers offer the ability to add a great method of caching resources that can be used by the app. The methods available allow a developer greater control over the resources that help drive a user’s experience and can help the app maintain functionality while offline,” says Ben Lymer, Woodruff’s lead developer.


Luckily for users with a history of clicking “Remind Me Later,” updates to PWAs are significantly simpler than native apps. Thanks to the service worker, updates are made when the user goes online with no manual update required. Notifications can also be created so a user can be reminded to go online and fetch the latest content. This feature can give users (and developers) peace of mind that they are operating the most recent version of the PWA. And for our clients, they can be assured their sales representatives are relaying the most up-to-date product information to their customers. 


PWAs feel like an app due to app-style interactions and navigation. With the “Add to Home Screen” option, users can easily access the site from their home screen, similar to a native app. PWAs can also mimic native apps with the ability to install push notifications, enable GPS location services and more. A bonus: PWAs are generally much smaller than native apps and thus tend to take up less space on a user’s device. This can make opening a PWA much faster than a native app for a time-strapped user.


Many mobile users fear sensitive data being shared or stolen (and we don’t blame them). However, you don’t need to compromise safety when opting for a PWA. To be considered a PWA, it must be served via https and contain a valid SSL certification. Without those qualities, the PWA won’t be installable nor recognized as an app.


When looking at building native apps, one must take into account the costs associated with them. “Native apps require developer licenses for the different publishing methods,” explains Ben. In addition, you must build and digitally sign the app, configure the images and text for the app stores, and ultimately, wait for it to get reviewed by the app store officials. Native apps can also require developers to know multiple programming languages — which can certainly be time consuming.


With 328 million monthly active users ­— and 80 percent of them using a mobile device — Twitter wanted to enhance their mobile experience to be faster, more reliable and more engaging. With the help of a PWA, Twitter Lite combined the best of the modern web and native app features. It became the default mobile web experience for all users globally in April 2017. According to a case study, Twitter saw a 65 percent increase in pages per session, 75 percent increase in tweets sent and 20 percent decrease in bounce rate — making Twitter Lite the fastest, least expensive, and most reliable way to use the platform.


While PWAs offer several advantages over native apps, it’s a good idea to keep an open mind when evaluating the reasons why your business needs an app, as both PWAs and native apps can be beneficial to a business and can help serve different purposes. If you would like to discuss goals and potential strategies for strengthening your business’s web or mobile experience, reach out. We have just the right people for you.