Posted on: 26 01 2021

The limitations of PWAs (and why you shouldn't worry about them!)

Written by
Mark de Vos
Reading time: 3 mins

Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) have a lot of advantages but remain a developing technology. New functionality and options are frequently available but at this moment in time there are limitations to PWAs. Let’s explore a few of these items to consider how far we can take PWAs.

While this article is intended to make you aware of some of the limitations of PWAs, it’s important to mention that the pros far outweigh the cons. That said, it’s still worthwhile acknowledging any drawbacks so you can better manage your expectations should you decide to build your own PWA.

Side note: the first couple of items we’re going to discuss are related to iOS specifically. PWAs originally came from Google, but Apple has fully embraced the technology, so you can expect further support and developments for PWAs—or as Apple calls them: “HTML apps” or “Web apps”—in the future.

Push notifications on iOS

Apple are yet to develop support for push notifications on iOS PWAs. Just like on native apps, you can send push notifications on Android devices but no iOS. A simple workaround is to use SMS notifications (which isn’t particularly expensive) until Apple adds push notification support.

Installation prompt

One of the best ways to get users to install your PWA to their home screen is by showing them a prompt whenever they visit your website. Unfortunately, this functionality is only available on Chrome and Edge at the moment. You can however add this functionality to Safari with a few manual steps.

File size

The PWA installable file for iOS cannot exceed 50MB. Now, for native apps this may seem as a sharp limitation, but your PWA shouldn’t even come near 50MB, and typically only take up KBs of storage.

However, there might be cases out there where caching media (images and videos) makes a good business case. Not having those features on the installed version of your app may make the experience less rich and decreases your overall conversion. Not all is lost however, as there are ways to use IndexedDB to store a few GBs of data. Without getting too technical, there are workarounds to have larger than 50MB data sets.

Another approach is to have the files only cache when the user actually views them, this requires more advanced caching strategies and the right expertise from both a technology and strategy point of view. The disadvantage is that such an approach in markets with limited connectivity is likely not a viable option.

API functionality limitation

Login and checkout processes often require users to authenticate with the server to complete. Of course, if a user offline, no connection to the server can be made. However, this is something we can manage in the same way that if you send a WhatsApp message while offline, your message won’t actually send until you connect to the internet. The same principle works if say you use a PWA to order a coffee while in an area of low connectivity, payment will simply be processed the next time the user’s device can connect with the server. This sort of functionality is actually one of the main benefits PWAs can offer your customers.

Hardware access myths

Unfortunately, there are a few myths out there surrounding the limitations of PWAs. This is likely because these applications are still an emerging technology. Let’s debunk one of those misunderstandings now...

There seems to be a very persistent myth around what device hardware PWAs can take advantage of. While some limitations indeed exist, the following functionalities all have supported APIs: cameras, geolocation, biometric authentication, native share functionality and Bluetooth.

Biometric authentication works on PWAs and is broadly supported, which means user identification can be authenticated with fingerprints or by looking at their device. Though not all browsers support this, the main ones (Safari and Chrome) do.

PWA technology and support is improving and advancing every day so it’s a good idea to check-in with us for more information of resolutions and workarounds to the limitations outlined in this article. A great tool to determine the current state of functionalities supported for PWAs and individual browsers is Again PWAs are a very powerful new technology in the digital ecosystem which can boost your user experience and conversion in significant ways.

Contact us if you are considering rebuilding your ecosystem or even your website, a PWA might be the new approach you’re looking for, and we can help you develop one!

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