What stands behind “progressive” that makes these new apps different from traditional Web apps. There are several new concepts:
- App Shell – a concept of a visual container that makes PWAs look like native apps.
- Ability to add PWAs to your mobile device home screen as a native app.
As users interact with PWAs more and more, these apps cache code and business data, so that the apps’ performance become similar to the native apps.
Benefits of PWAs
We can conclude that there are several strong reasons to look at PWAs if you’re on a journey to select a new mobile app platform:
- Reuse of your existing code if you already have a mobile Website
- No need to deal with an app store. Your app changes are immediately available for the app users
- Promise of a good performance
The other side of a medal
The new technology is interesting and promising, and it’s worth following its progress. However, organizations should carefully review the trade-offs of this new technology and understand the implications of using PWAs as the basis for their mobile strategy. At the moment there are many questions and missing capabilities that don’t make PWAs a good choice for many mobile initiatives.
This is one of the first areas that requires careful evaluation of PWAs. Google says that PWAs are “secure” and support this statement with the fact that PWAs use HTTPS to communicate with a server. HTTPS is just one of many security requirements for a typical mobile app.
For example, PWAs are “installed” by following a URL on a Website that is designated to be a PWA. But do you always know if that Website is reliable and secure? There are plenty of techniques to fool a user to follow a bogus URL. Installing a PWA from a malicious site would expose your device. While app stores impose a certain publishing (and lengthy) process for mobile apps, they, at the same time, provide some level of assurance that mobile apps are trustworthy. There is also app scanning, user comments and rating system that give you a level of trust. This part is missing with PWAs.
Another missing security feature is that PWAs don’t support an encrypted on-device data store – a requirement for many business apps.
Mobile app features specific to a device make a big difference in user experience and the value of such apps. For example, ability to make a picture and share it with your family, or using a mobile device as a navigation aid, etc. While there is good progress in making those features available to the Web apps, there is still a big gap in what features are supported by native and Web apps.
PWAs try to close this gap by supporting offline mode and push notifications, but other features are not available yet in PWAs:
- On-device encrypted data store
- Barcode reader
- Touch gestures
- Other (the full list is here)
One vendor game?
As of now, Android is the only platform supported by PWAs. Why? Because PWAs support for native-like features is based primarily on Chrome (there are a few more browsers supporting PWAs, but support is spotty). Will Safari support PWAs? There is no positive answer.
PWAs are new. There are very few PWAs in production. Two examples are FlipKart (India) and the Washington Post (USA; in beta mode). There are several example apps too. Developers are debating about promises and realities of the PWAs. So far, it seems to be more concerns with these new apps than bright news. Will you bet your business on the technology that can’t even showcase its maturity? It would be a risky choice, at least right now.
IBM MobileFirst offers full set of mobile capabilities
IBM MobileFirst Foundation is one of the best mobile app development platform on the market and supports mobile capabilities that are missing from PWAs. It provides some of the advantages claimed by PWAs, but offers additional capabilities. Let’s take a look at side-by-side comparison in the following table:
|Feature||Google PWA||IBM MobileFirst|
|Reuse HTML/CSS/JS skills||Yes||Yes (hybrid apps)|
|Dynamically update apps||Yes||Yes (dynamic updates for hybrid apps)|
|Requires app stores||No||Yes|
|Supported on iOS, Android and Windows OS||No (Android only)||Yes|
|Encrypted on-device data store||No||Yes|
|Home screen app launcher||Yes||Yes|
|Advanced app security||No||Yes|
|Support for all mobile features (Camera, Contacts, Files, Touch gestures, etc.)||No||Yes|
|Built-in mobile analytics||No||Yes|
|Device management||No||Some security related features. Full support with add-on MobileFirst solution from IBM|
|Industry proven||No||Yes. Hundreds of clients in all industries with different workload requirements.|
PWAs present a new and very interesting concept of expanding support for mobile devices by the Web apps. There is a big promise. However, this new technology is in its early stage. It can be interesting for evaluation and further developers’ collaboration. But it is premature to talk about PWA as a valid candidate for the mobile app development needs of the most organizations. Even if the available features are tested in numerous production deployments, there is still a relatively small set of mobile use cases that can be covered by PWAs.
To support all of your mobile app development needs IBM offers MobileFirst set of capabilities that will support any mobile initiatives. IBM MobileFirst Foundation can be deployed in any fashion (on-premise, cloud or hybrid). You can find more information about IBM MobileFirst at this link.