What is PWA: Meaning, Features, and Successful Use Cases

What is PWA: Meaning, Features, and Successful Use Cases

By Mariana Demchuk, Kostya Zgara | September 30, 2022 | Web Development

The concept of Progressive Web Applications (PWA) has been around for a long time. Back in 2015, Google announced this format for creating mobile sites. Progressive Web Apps have gained trust due to their ease of development and near-instantaneous user experience, and as of Spring 2018, they were supported by all major browsers. However, the prevalence of PWA technologies, despite their obvious advantages is still very low.

Let's take a look at the significant features of PWA as well as the main benefits and disadvantages of this technology for business.

What is PWA: Meaning and Key Features

Progressive Web App or PWA, is a technology in web development that allows an application to "live" in the browser. The page looks and works like a native app that is open on Android or iOS.

Such apps are created using web technologies, not classical programming languages:

  • HTML (Browser Markup Language);
  • CSS (language for describing the appearance of these pages);
  • JavaScript (a language for creating dynamic content on the Internet).

Although PWAs run in the browser, they are almost as functional as native apps designed for iOS or Android. They can even be "installed" - a corresponding inscription appears on the mobile device. But when the user clicks on it, it doesn't launch the app, but the browser with the corresponding PWA.

PWA Features

Like native apps, PWAs offer push notifications and the ability to work offline. Such programs take advantage of the Internet, including the relative ease of deployment, and operate directly from the company's main site. Let's take a closer look at the main features of the PWA:

  1. Progressive

The factor that makes PWAs so different from traditional apps is progressive enhancement. They don't have the limitations that native apps have. This means that PWAs can be as advanced as possible and will work on all possible operating systems. Also, PWAs can work in any browser.

  1. Adaptability

Nowadays, users access the Internet from smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, laptops, and other devices. Responsive design makes PWA progressive and accessible to any type of device.

  1. Speed

The PWA site works much faster, including due to caching. It is an excellent way to increase web performance.

  1. Reliability

Progressive Web Applications take up less space on mobile devices and allow users to interact with the application regardless of the Internet connection. This is possible due to the advance caching of data by the application.

  1. Involvement

New browser APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) allows the creation of functionality that was not previously available on mobile sites.

PWA Structure

There are many structure modifications, but the minimum requirements for PWA to work are:

secure HTTPS connection, service worker file, and valid JSON manifest file. Most often, PWA consists of service workers, application manifest, offline caching, various PWA technologies, responsive design, background synchronization, push notifications, media API, and geolocation API.

pwa meaning


PWA requires all site resources to be transferred over HTTPS. You can get an SSL certificate for free, some hosts do it for you. But the site mustn't contain links to insecure resources; some browsers simply will not display the site in this case.

Service Worker

The main element of the PWA is the Service Worker, which has access to the cache store for web resources and IndexDB. In terms of coding, this is the JavaScript file that all browser requests go through. With its help, the developer defines the logic of working with requests coming from the front end and other functionality.

Web App Manifest

Web App Manifest is a JSON file that declaratively defines the name of the application for the browser, the icon, how the PWA will look (fullscreen, standalone, and other display options), and some other parameters. It also allows you to "install" PWA as an application on your smartphone's home screen.

Any site can be supplemented with these components and thus get a progressive web application.

Application Shell Architecture

An app shell is a skeleton of the graphical user interface in the form of a basic set of static elements in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It is stored on the client side and loaded when the application is launched, and then dynamic information is loaded into it from the network. This ensures an almost immediate launch on subsequent visits.

Benefits of Progressive Web Applications

PWA benefits

PWA is an effective solution for developers looking to reduce the time and money spent on building mobile apps and websites. Moreover, the progressive web app allows users to access web pages from browser bookmarks and instantly download content without the need for a server.

In addition to the development cost, PWA has several other advantages compared to a native mobile application:

  • PWA allows you to send push notifications.
  • Savings on re-attracting a client, as there are no costs for customer return tools (retargeting, remarketing).
  • You do not need to place the application in the AppStore and Google Play. PWA can be downloaded directly from your website.
  • It is easier to edit content: changes are made once in the site admin panel. No need to edit content separately on the site and separately in the application.
  • PWA does not require updates: users always see up-to-date content.
  • Develop PWA faster.
  • PWA improves the SEO performance of a website. Using a PWA site is more convenient, which means that behavioral factors improve. This, in turn, can positively influence the position of the site in search engines.

Of course, for some businesses, PWA cannot be a full-fledged replacement for a mobile application. There are more opportunities for a native mobile application. But if the benefits listed above are enough for you, a PWA site can be a good and much cheaper alternative to an app for a business.

First of all, PWA is suitable for companies whose services customers use often or with a certain frequency, for example, once a month. So, PWA will benefit from a food delivery service, a beauty salon, a cleaning company, and an online store. PWA is also suitable for online media.

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Disadvantages of a PWA

PWA disadvantages

The PWA application cannot send notifications to the iPhone, as the default browser in iOS is Safari. However, in iOS 14, Apple added the feature of choosing a default browser. This means that if the user chooses a standard browser other than Safari, notifications can also be sent to the iPhone. Also, PWAs do not support Touch ID and have limited functionality with Bluetooth.

In addition, the first load of the PWA is a bit slow since the site information is stored in the device cache. At the same time, after clearing the cache, it is impossible to work with the site offline until the next connection to the Internet. In addition, the total size of the resource (including images and scripts) must be optimized as much as possible, since there are different cache size limits for different devices and browsers.

Other disadvantages:

  • may not work well on some operating systems
  • due to the intensive use of the CPU, it quickly drains the battery
  • does not have the same access to device functions as native programs
  • the difficulty of implementing the technology on the existing site
  • many PWA features do not work in the incognito mode of the browser.

PWA vs Native Apps: Comparison and Main Differences

The main differentiating factor between these two applications is how end users access them. Native apps are available in app stores and require installation/download/configuration. PWA apps are spared all these installation issues.

Speaking of providing features, it seems like the native app is winning the battle as it will have direct access to the system hardware. Its integration options are definitely top-notch and better than the PWA app. Native apps are likely to have better data export, cross-platform connectivity, payments, access control, geofencing, motion detection, and other features.

However, the above does not mean that the PWA application does not have features. There are features like push notifications, authentication, speech synthesis, etc. for standard user experience. But since it can't access your hardware, there are certain limitations.

A direct comparison of PWAs with native apps reveals another differentiating feature. As we mentioned above, PWAs are built using a simpler codebase (requiring only web languages, not a platform-specific SDK).

Reasons To Choose Progressive Web Apps For Businesses

PWA technology helps to shorten the path to customer acquisition and keeps them engaged. This technology is implemented by both large and small companies.

PWAs allow businesses to:

  • reach uninvolved users. One of the main reasons customers uninstall an app or don't want to install it is due to device storage space limitations. On average, PWAs take up 25 times less space on the device compared to native apps;
  • do not target a specific platform or operating system. Progressive web applications rely on the internet. They can be installed on devices with any operating system: iOS, Android, or Windows. This allows the company to reach a wider audience at a much lower cost;
  • lower the entry barrier and shorten the sales funnel. The main problem of a native mobile application is user retention. In this case, PWAs may be the best option, as they store the entire history of user actions and the sales funnel is not interrupted;
  • improve customer satisfaction. PWAs use the browser cache to speed up their work. According to research in the B2C sector, even a 0.1 second improvement in mobile speed increases brand awareness and lead generation results by up to 10%.

PWA: Successful Use Cases

Progressive web applications are developed by many large companies. They help expand the familiar ecosystem for existing users and attract new customers. Here are some successful PWA implementation examples:

Using PWAs, Alibaba attracted 104% more new users across all browsers, increased conversion rates on iOS by 82%, and increased user session time by 74% across all browsers.

Twitter Lite progressive web app helped to solve data usage minimization issues, increase download speed and reduce app weight. As a result, pageviews per session increased by 65%, tweets sent increased by 75%, and bounce rates decreased by 20%.

Another successful example of using progressive web applications is the world-famous Starbucks franchise. The company decided to implement a Starbucks PWA to reduce the size compared to the native one. As a result, PWA doubled the loading speed as well as the number of daily active users and resulting in increased direct revenue and direct ROI for Starbucks.

Hotel booking service Trivago has implemented PWA to improve the experience with mobile users. As a result, their engagement increased by 150%, and about 500,000 people added Trivago to their device home screens.

You can view other examples of the best and most popular Progressive Web Apps on the directory sites, in particular,

Final Thoughts,

PWA is an intermediate technology between websites and native mobile applications. In fact, this is a "pumped" copy of the website, hosted on the user's device, and does not require separate development for iOS or Android. Since PWAs are created using web technologies, developers do not need to create different versions of mobile applications. In addition, the Progressive Web App provides users with a similar experience to native apps, making it a powerful tool for businesses and startups.