There will always be new technology people say you should adopt. Having a website used to be enough. Then suddenly, every business needed a mobile-friendly website and a native app and…queue the next big thing. But technology for technology’s sake is useless. The question is: How can a particular technology support your business’s goals (if, at all)? A new mobile technology trend has been gaining traction: the Progressive Web App (PWA). Named in 2015, PWAs have been picking up steam in the last year with Google and Microsoft teaming up to support them. Apple is also joining in with support on the latest versions of Safari. But before we blindly jump on the bandwagon, let’s look at what PWAs are and if they would be a good fit for your company’s mobile strategy.
What are Progressive Web Apps?
Essentially, PWAs are mobile-optimized websites that can offer users the experience of a native app, without the friction of the app store search, installation, and update process. Where mobile websites have been the easiest for users to access, and native apps have always been the best for user-experience, PWAs are bridging that gap. It’s not surprising that a replacement has come along. Once shiny new toys, native apps have had their drawbacks. From a user perspective, having to search through an app store and burn through expensive data plans waiting for an app to download has led to less apps being utilized. In fact, according to comScore (via TechCrunch), the majority of consumers download an average of zero apps per month. That means that only the biggest and best apps get downloaded and used!
For the businesses that create native apps, there are multiple challenges. First, costly resources need to be dedicated to developing apps on multiple platforms. Then, there is the tedious process of getting the app submitted and approved into app stores—which can delay deadlines by weeks if the app is declined. Also, one of the biggest drawbacks is the 30% fee the platforms take for any in-app purchases offered in the app. Lastly, updating the app can also create several difficulties for development teams to overcome. PWAs solve these problems.
Curious how they work? Browser technology has evolved a lot over the past few years. Support for a mechanism called a service worker, and an application manifest file are being baked into almost all the major browsers. This new support gives browsers the ability to perform app-style navigation and also have an enriched app-like offline mode, push notifications, smarter caching abilities that excel performance, and the ability to be installed on users’ home screens. But PWAs have additional features that set them apart from native apps. Let’s take a peek at what they are! First, let’s look at immediate benefits for companies.
Progressive Web Apps Cost Less
This will probably be reason enough for many companies who haven’t developed their own apps to adopt PWAs. There are a few ways that PWAs cut costs. The first is that they don’t need to be put in the App Store, which means there is no 30% fee taken by the platform for in-app purchases. That alone could mean a huge increase in revenue! And, according to Forbes, PWAs cost less to develop. One big reason for this is that PWAs work within a browser to support all devices. This means companies don’t have to retain specialized resources capable of building apps for each platform they’re targeting. PWAs are built using web technologies, so development resources are much more plentiful.
As Fairway’s PWA expert and a mobile application developer, I’d say: If you offered to make my job easier, and give me a 30% raise, the decision to switch to a PWA is easy.
And that’s not the only way PWAs streamline the native app process.
Progressive Web Apps Simplify Updates
There are probably other things your company needs to do besides update its mobile website and native app, right? With the pivot to mobile, companies have invested tons of money and time to reach people on their devices. A plus of creating a PWA is that a well-built one can serve as your regular website, your mobile site, and a mobile app all-in-one. This makes updating much easier—saving your team time. Updates happen just the same as regular websites, so your company can be confident that users are accessing the latest updates instantly, without having to download and install the new version of a native app. Next, let’s look at the user side and how the ease of using PWAs could impact your bottom line.
Progressive Web Apps Increase Engagement and Conversion Rates
One of the biggest benefits of PWAs comes from streamlining the downloading process. When users visit a PWA site, they are prompted to install the app to their home screen. Instead of having to bounce over to an app store, the app is immediately installed as a tile on the user’s home screen. From then on, when the user clicks this tile the app loads full screen just like a native app.
This is where the service worker comes into play. A service worker essentially acts as a proxy between your app and the internet. When a user first visits a PWA, the service worker is installed and begins to download and cache the app’s shell, including all the CSS, script files, etc. Since these things are only downloaded once, this is how a PWA excels in performance. All subsequent requests mainly consist of data, and as that data is cached, performance keeps increasing (hence the “progressive” in PWA). Developers also have many options on how to handle requests when the network connection fails. If the user loses their network connection, the service worker can still serve cached data, allowing your user to keep using the app without any ugly “No network connection” screens.
But how do users find an app? A plus to a PWA is that SEO can positively affect how apps are found. Since PWAs are web-based, SEO can boost your app in search results, which could increase your app’s exposure compared to the manual search of app stores.
These simple changes have had a very positive effect on user engagement and conversion. For companies such as Tinder, Uber, Pinterest, and West Elm that have already switched to PWAs, the proof is in the pudding. After Pinterest switched to a PWA, users spent 40% more time on it than they had on the native app. As a result, core engagements grew by 60% and ad revenue increased by 44%. For Tinder, load times were cut in half, leading to more time spent messaging and swiping. Uber’s goal was to increase adoption of its app in areas where 4G networks were not available. With its PWA, Uber now takes less than three seconds to load on 2G networks. As you can see, PWAs are providing tangible results for businesses. However, the benefits of a PWA depend on your sector and how much you depend on mobile strategy to convert customers.
Progressive Web Apps Take Up Less Space
Like we mentioned before, PWAs have nearly all the features of native apps including: the ability to be reached offline. This is important for users who have wandered out of cell range, but still want to access a particular app’s data. But, PWAs distinguish themselves with their smaller data footprint on phones.
It has happened to all of us. We’re trying to record a meaningful family moment on video or snap a few photos on vacation and we get the no-space-available message. We look into what’s taking up so much room on our phone and find a sea of apps we never use—apps that we begin madly deleting. When a user installs a PWA onto their phone, instead of downloading a huge chunk of data, they are installing an app shell that allows them to view the given website as an app. This is helpful for users and businesses who want to encourage users to keep their apps.
PWAs Automatically Update
Lastly, any update that a business or creator makes to the PWA website will automatically update on any user’s device. No more worrying about whether users are seeing the latest version of your app. PWAs make sure that users don’t have to wait for apps to update to see what’s new.
Of course, time will only tell if PWAs will replace native apps entirely. Browser technology is increasing at a rapid rate and PWAs will most definitely evolve from where they are now as that support continues to grow. For companies who have already invested in a native app, a PWA might be a toy they can live without. And some industries will benefit from a PWA more than others. If you want to learn more about Progressive Web Apps or see if PWAs could play a part in your company’s mobile strategy, contact Fairway today!