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Understanding The Limitations of PWAs – A Complete Guide

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The steady onslaught of progressive web apps over the past few years has fundamentally altered the way people interact with websites, and applications. The euphoric “there is an app for that” frenzy during the early 2010s has given way to app fatigue, making the light-weight, feature heavy, and responsive PWAs the preferred alternative to native apps, and the potential next frontier for web and mobile applications.

There is a lot to love about progressive web apps, and to start with, they are ‘progressive,’ meaning anyone can use them regardless of browser, OS, or application download requirements. Instead of downloading new apps each time users want to try a new product, or service, accessing PWAs is similar to visiting a website, just type-in the address, and the site works similar to any native mobile app.

That being said, however, PWAs have increasingly turned into a buzzword, and while many of its revolutionary claims and promises still hold true, its proponents often omit its numerous limitations and drawbacks. In this article, we dive deep into certain shortcomings of PWAs, as compared to native applications, to give a well-rounded picture for users, developers, and other stakeholders.

Lack of Discoverability 

While it still remains to be seen how Android and iOS adapt to the rising prevalence of PWAs, for the time being, however, native applications still hold the edge when it comes to distribution and discoverability. Apple’s iOS App Store, and Google’s Play Store are essentially busy marketplaces, where even new apps can gain traction fairly quickly, with little-to-no marketing spend.

Even though both the app stores are getting increasingly saturated in recent years, they are still orders of magnitude better when compared to discoverability of web apps pitted against trillions of web pages on search engines. It goes without saying that app store optimization (ASO), or the process of ranking within app stores, is a lot simpler, and much less expensive compared to search engine optimization (SEO).

Performance Limitations

PWAs, at their core, are just web pages that mimic apps, along with certain app-like features. They can access platform and hardware resources, but only to a certain extent, and since they run on browsers, they’re faced with latency, and heavy battery usage, compared to native apps. PWA capabilities and supported features continue to expand steadily, and these concerns should get addressed over time.

Native apps can access the full potential of device hardware to deliver quicker calculations, and better experiences for customers, giving them an edge when it comes to performance intensive applications. There are, however, certain PWA apps such as this photo editor from BeFunky have gone all-in on this trend, and provide an experience similar to those of native apps, right within a user’s web browser.

Less Secure

Even though PWAs are generally more secure than normal web apps, given that they are required to be SSL compliant, they fall short of the built-in security measures that remain possible with native apps. Despite the long list of new capabilities available for PWAs, they still lack biometric, or two-factor authentication access, which is often considered to be the pinnacle of security when working with apps.

Native apps in general are considered to be more trustworthy by users, given that they are required to undergo an extensive vetting process before entering the app stores. A PWA, as discussed earlier, is a web page at best, that might fail to inspire the same level of confidence, however, all such drawbacks are merely opportunities, and we should see extensive security measures for PWAs as well, going forward.

Final Verdict 

There is no doubt that PWA is the next big thing when it comes to web apps, mobile apps, and the internet. This is especially true given the massive strides being made towards an internet-first OS, along with the increasing range of PWA capabilities being supported by major platforms. 

It is essential to be aware of its limitations at the moment, but be aware that there are a number of solutions already in-play for each of them.