Responsive Web Design Vs Progressive Web Apps: What’s The Word On The Web?

Expert Tips for Responsive Web Design Vs Progressive Web Apps


Analyzing trends and capitalizing on technological advancements is essential to keeping your business in that desirable ‘influencing’ position. Not only is this a common goal, but it is becoming more of a ‘must-have’ frame-of-mind. Social media marketing and e-commerce niches are fast-paced and likely to turn on a whim. So adopting the latest in technological advancements to facilitate the ease in which customers access your services is important to keep pace with the times and ensure your business is at the forefront of fulfilling consumer needs and desires.

Web App World

There are a plethora of possibilities currently available in the web universe to provide your service, visually, to the public. Among them are native apps (NAs) – websites and pages that look and function like apps. Usurping the former darling-of-the-moment, Responsive Web Design (RWD), the new kid on the block demanding our ever-shifting attention is the Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). So let’s consider what these do and why you might pick one over the other.

Progressive by Name, Responsive Design by Nature

PWAs are highly specialized websites and pages that deliver an app-like experience to users without forcing them to download and install an app from the marketplace. By removing that single step, you can increase the base of early adopters. PWAs also have the capacity to flex and mold into any and all browsers and devices that the user has.

A PWA will give you the majority of the functionality of a native app product. This is positive from a development point of view because it is not necessary for the developers to write more than one piece of code. With a native app, the developers need to write scripts tailor-made for different types of operating system (iOS and Android) thus increasing the financial implications.

A Progressive Web App is, after all, a highly specialized, responsive website with the capacity for local storage, offering a fast, rich, and secure (HTTPS-based) user experience (UX). PWAs are recognized by web crawlers, and therefore, will be displayed on SERPs, where native apps struggle with this. They are also “linkable” in the same way that you can link to a web page. A PWA is also connection independent, meaning that it will “refresh” with new content and updates, and are re-engageable for push notifications.

As a competitor to NAs, PWAs don’t give the full benefit of a native app but (and this is a major advantage) with HTML5, you can run an ‘application cache’ – a locally-stored offline version of the site, making updates so much faster and easier for users to acquire. HTML5 can also run multiple processes at the same time, so the user experience is not interrupted as updates are applied, providing a seamless interface. While PWAs can have a desktop icon – an ‘add to home screen’ image – which reacts like an app, it has only restricted access to the system’s hardware, such as a mobile phone camera. It cannot interact with it in the same way an NA will.

Responsive Web Design, by default, is the minimum that your customers will expect. An RWD can provide great UX and can manage more intensive processes than a PWA. It is less costly to produce, easier to maintain, and with good CSS and the right HTML code, the responsive web design that you will be expecting to have, based on what we are all used to these days, will run just fine. 

One of the considerations when choosing between a Progressive Web App and Responsive Web Design is user expectation. A PWA should be fractionally faster than an RWD but often it is overloaded with ads, tracking scripts, or enormous images – just because it can – and this slows down the site’s speed.

Nerd or Necessity

PWAs are not completely distinct from RWD, they are the next stage – they are standing on the shoulders of those giants. But are they necessary? 

Most businesses will do well with Responsive Design. If you have a video on your site, will your customers happily download it into their application cache, sacrificing space? It’s an important question. On the other hand, if you want to go ‘cutting edge’ and have the cash to splash then PWA is the newest tech way forward.

PWAs are not a fix for bad UX or ‘jank’ – the freezing and unfreezing of a page with too many processes running simultaneously caused by bad coding. If there is an issue with your site it is better to get the UX, UI, or coding ironed out than it is to get a more expensive but very pretty whistles-and-bells solution you don’t need and from which customers won’t benefit. 

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer. It comes down to a needs-based analysis, with a hefty dose of financial implication thrown in. This increase in performance sounds great but the payback is the level of coding, engineering complexity, and therefore, cost. Whether a Progressive Web App or Responsive Web Design is right for you is probably a conversation best had with a developer, and between you to decide on the best course of action for your business.

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