If you're in the mobile commerce world, you're probably familiar with Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs as they're commonly known. They've been a very hot topic over the past several months, and are rumored to be one of the forces pushing the mobile web forward, bringing cohesion to web and native apps, helping mobile app developers reach users beyond the boundaries of app stores. While these features sound revolutionary, it's important to understand the differences between true native apps and PWAs.
PWAs bring features you'd normally expect to find in a native app to mobile broswers by using standards-based technologies, run in a secure container, accessible to anyone on the web. Essentially, PWAs provide an app-like experience on the mobile web, removing the need to download an app to a home-screen to get the app interface.
So, with PWAs solving one of the common challenges of mobile apps, why aren't they outpacing native apps and becoming the go-to mobile solution for retailers? There are a few ways in which PWAs fall short.
Firstly, retargeting. With native apps, developers are able to to identify users based on their Google Advertising ID (GAID) and Identifier For Advertising (IDFA) information. For example, if the user is viewing a product, they can be targeted on Facebook or any other ad network with dynamic ads. Using PWAs, there is no way to identify the user for retargeting on ad platforms or any other channel.
Secondly, PWAs are not supported in iOS. This is a massive weak point for the channel, effectively rendering it useless for the majority of smartphone users in the US. This shortcoming alone is enough to deter a majority of brands from pursuing a PWA.
Next up is deep linking. With native apps, developers can leverage deep linking to route the user to specific content within the app, making the path to purchase direct and simplified for the user. In contrast, PWAs cannot be registered to handle intents or app links, therefore they cannot support deep linking.
Lastly, push notifications are a major pain point for PWAs. Since there is no way to determine if the user has both the Native App as well as the PWA installed, users can be accidently sent multiple push notifications, potentially leading them to not allow push messaging anymore, or uninstall the app altogether.
Ultimately, PWAs are an interesting, innovative, and honestly – cool – step forward in the app world, but fall short in many key areas. Because of their lacking performance with regard to retargeting, a lack of availability on iOS devices, deep linking and push notifications, native apps still come out the winner in this race to mobile superiority.