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Mobile app or mobile web? While the debate is raging on in professional circles about which is better and why, there is a middle ground which can be established which brings many of the advantages of native mobile apps to the mobile browser.

Although both can be used on two types of devices, smartphones and tablets, mobile apps and mobile websites are different. Progressive web apps (PWAs) are an open source initiative driven by Google that uses modern web capabilities to deliver app-like experiences to users, which can provide a better user experience than mobile apps or browsers. Because the framework is still relatively new, it is not supported by all browsers nor does it support some of the features that make native apps so appealing to consumers, like the camera, GPS and fingerprint scanners. This could start to change if PWAs gain wider acceptance.

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“PWAs represent a seismic advancement in the web, similar in magnitude to the transition five years ago in responsive web design,” Peter Sheldon, vice president of strategy at Magento Commerce, a provider of an open-source e-commerce platform, told Mobile Marketer. “This is a new technology that will inevitably grow and change over the years as developers constantly improve versions of it, and brands increasingly embrace PWAs as part of their mobile strategies.

All About PWAs

PWAs have some serious advantages for online shoppers, and it all starts with faster browsing, Sheldon said. They also are instantly discoverable within a browser without the need to download an app, and can work anywhere, including areas where there are poor network conditions. They can be saved to the home screen at least on Android devices, and can be accessed and a personalized engagement channel. They also allow for rapid repeat access without the need to open the browser and type in a web address.

“Well designed PWAs have speeds that are four times faster than other mobile sites and are friction-free, so customers stay engaged, and can speed through checkout to buy a product with just a few taps,” Igor Faletski, CEO of progressive web app provider Mobify, told Mobile Marketer.

For marketers, there are other benefits too. PWAs help provide to have a big impact on mobile conversion rates while also alleviating the high investment costs associated with developing native apps, Magento’s Sheldon said.

“PWAs look and feel just like a native app and ultimately customers will prefer PWAs because they bring a higher speed, app-like interaction, and offline usage to any mobile website,” he said.

PWAs also support push notifications in the browser, “extending the opportunity for marketers to send real-time, contextual and personalized communications with a simple ‘one-click’ opt-in directly from the PWA site,” Sheldon said.

Because PWAs are essentially websites, they also are easier to update without requiring users to download and install an upgraded version of an app.