PWAs Will Save The Next Billion Users

2019-07-02PWAs4 min read

I Couldn't Unsee This Photo Too.
I Couldn't Unsee This Photo Too.
3.5Billion people are now connected to the internet. Subscription growth in most developed countries has reached saturation; 86.5% in the US(2019)(Link) and 90% in the UK(2018)(Link).

People coming online for the first time will mostly be from developing countries like Indonesia, Chile, Brazil, Nigeria, India, etc. In some of these countries, the internet growth rate was as high as 12% within the last few years and some are growing at a crazy rate today.

What's helping them come online?

The decreasing prices of smartphones and data bundles. In places like Africa and Asia, smartphones can cost as low as $50 (Link, Link) and the price of data connection relative to salary in the NBU countries.

Their Devices and Network Connection

They're expected to have the devices with the lowest capabilities and extremely slow internet connection. These are mostly second-hand phones with 2GB RAM and low inbuilt storage. In fact, 33% of smartphone users in India or Asia get notifications to delete files and free up storage space every day (Link).

While people in developed countries can have an internet speed of about 100Mbps, that's luxury in these regions, as internet speed can be as low as 500kbps.

Unlike internet users in developed countries, the NBU regions are offline-first. This requires a huge shift in thinking. People in developed countries might never turn off their data connection, but in these regions, they do so to conserve data and battery.

They spend most of their time not connected to the internet. Public wifi is a myth, so once they find one, they'll download and save everything to their devices. They hardly update software. Data is money for them so they choose wisely, which apps are worth it.

What are PWAs and how can they help.

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) leverage modern and powerful features of the web to provide native-like experiences. They're intentionally designed to provide the best experiences while on the web, gain their user's trust and occupy estate on the mobile device.

The philosophy of building PWAs seems to square up perfectly with the challenges the Next Billion Users face.

Progressive enhancement

PWAs are designed to provide the best experience and progress as the user interacts more with them. They start out as browser tabs and become more powerful with every use. More importantly, providing the best experience for the users' network or device.

Work offline with Service workers

Service workers are the core of PWAs. To provide offline-first experiences, they can store data to the users' browsers and deliver them without actually going to the network. If the user's network is bad or they're offline, they'll never see a dinosaur or a blank page. This is a huge game changer for people in developing countries live offline-first lives and mostly turn off their data connection to save data.

Twitter Lite

Twitter Inc. had 80% of their users coming through their mobile apps. They imagined if they had a fast and instantly loading experience on the web, people would engage more with the product. Their result?

  • 65% increase in pages per session
  • 75% increase in Tweets sent
  • 20% decrease in bounce rate

We want Twitter Lite to be the best way to use Twitter when your connectivity is slow, unreliable, limited, or expensive. - Nicholias Gallagher, Engineering lead at Twitter (Link)

The web app rivals the performance of our native apps but requires less than 3% of the device storage space compared to Twitter for Android. - Nichollas Gallagher. (Link)

Now that's some mindblowing stuff.


Designing and Engineering inclusively for the next billion users requires a new and difficult way of thinking; Building products with an offline-first approach and working upwards with progressive enhancement. Maybe PWAs won't save the NBUs, but if a site is fast on 2G in a remote part of India, imagine what that would mean for a user in North America.

Photo credits: Victor on Unsplash

Thanks for readingšŸ˜Š.