“Progressive Web App” (PWA) is a term coined around 2015 to describe websites that operate like native apps and meets a set of criteria for the functionality that the PWA takes advantage of.
Progressively enhancing the user experience
“Progressive” refers to “progressive enhancement”, which is starting from a simpler core of content and functionality and then adding on to it with additional features that the user’s web browser supports. This allows older web browsers and devices to not miss out on a beneficial experience.
Baseline PWA functionality isn’t 100% just yet
The minimum “baseline” criteria that’s defined by Google for a PWA, however, it also requires very recent web browsers to satisfy the technology requirements.
For example, iOS only recently added some support for PWAs in March 2018, to which there are several bugs and limitations to keep in mind. Some of them are rather restrictive too, like the user’s session in the app restarts every time the PWA is opened.
Further, while a PWA can be added to the user’s “home” like a native app, PWAs are still severely limited by what functionality it can take advantage of that native apps have access to, such as “In App Payments”.
PWAs are now the best approach for a website
Despite the current limitations, PWAs are now the best approach for a website. Much like a “responsive” website design that works across desktop and mobile devices has been the minimum expectation.
On top of being responsive, the requirements of a PWA promote more usable websites in less ideal conditions, such as slow or spotty internet, reducing user frustration. Combined with other newer technologies PWAs will only continue to improve the user experience.
PWAs allow easier adoption of future enhancements
Designing from the start as a PWA allows a site to take advantage of new future PWA functionality as more web browsers adopt support. Since the PWA is already built to be “progressive”, taking advantage is a matter of adding on to website rather than a redevelopment.
As platforms like iOS resolve the various issues the PWA will naturally improve as well.