For the past decade, the debate has raged as to whether the mobile web will dominate or whether mobile apps will prevail. The answer is that they are not mutually exclusive and many companies need both. It’s a given that businesses need to create responsive websites and, in most cases, responsive web apps. Building mobile apps is another priority for the majority of companies, although the use case should be more focused on user personas or segments. With that approach solidifying, progressive web apps (PWAs) are emerging, which blur the lines between the web and apps.
PWAs aim to disrupt the mobile app paradigm by bridging the web experience with native app functionality, by using the latest browser technologies to meld the accessibility of the web with the presence of the mobile app. Most of the leading desktop and mobile browsers (except for Safari and browsers on iOS at the time of writing) have embraced the browser advancements (service workers) brought forth by Mozilla, Google, Facebook and others to implement service workers that enable a website to behave like an app. The service workers are embedded within the browser to surface PWA functionality. This allows users to install the website as an app icon to their home screen, as well as utilize app features such as push notifications and offline storage.
Application leaders responsible for mobile app strategies must determine when — not if — they need to factor in PWAs as part of their overall mobile development strategy. Consumer app fatigue is forcing application leaders to re-evaluate their approach to mobile web versus apps. PWAs will require application leaders to work with designers to reassess mobile websites and apply more app-oriented user experience (UX). Moreover, application leaders will need to tighten use cases for mobile apps and hone apps with mobile-first design functionality.
With Google, Microsoft, Samsung and others advancing PWA technologies in key browsers (for example, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Microsoft Edge), it’s only a matter of time before PWAs become the new standard for web interactions, just as responsive design has become the norm rather than the exception. By implementing support for PWAs now (see Google’s PWA checklist), websites will automatically run as PWAs on any new browser that adds support for PWAs in the future (such as Safari). However, application leaders need to address the key challenges to formulate an approach to incorporating PWAs into their overall mobile development strategy. For this, check out my research note on PWAs available to Gartner clients.
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