If you are paying attention to anything related to online marketing and web development you have at least heard the term ‘Progressive Web App‘ or PWA. You may be wondering what they are and how they might benefit your business.
The term progressive web app began surfacing in the 2015 time frame, but has roots back to the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. When Apple launched the original iPhone the plan was to create apps using the web platform. It made sense, web development is and was a common skillset and the web works everywhere.
For an odd reason developers asked for a native app platform and we soon had mobile apps that are now ubiquitous across different platforms.
But there are many issues with native apps. It requires a business to create and maintain a separate version for each platform and even device class. App Store submission is also an ongoing issue with it becoming more and more difficult to not only have an app accepted, but retained in the stores.
Consumers have also burned out on mobile apps. Experts estimate we crossed ‘peak app’ sometime in the 2015 timeframe. This is where the average adult downloaded zero apps in a given month and very few over the course of a year.
Consumers no longer want large apps consuming the scarce disk space on mobile devices, plus the app discovery and install process is very tedious.
Today we know the average mobile user engages with about 10 apps during a month, with the vast majority of those engagements being limited to social media and email apps. Video subscription services like Netflix and Hulu dominate app store earnings and many of those brands are in the process of phasing out their apps in favor of PWAs.
Media streaming services are not the only major brands migrating to progressive web apps, many other well-known brands are following. Twitter, Starbucks, Tinder, Uber and more are not only delivering PWAs with feature parity to their apps they are encouraging their customers to switch.
Progressive Web Apps have many distinct advantages for businesses.
The require fewer resources and cost less to develop than native options. Not only is the web the most common platform for developers, it works across all platforms and browsers. This eliminates the need to maintain separate code bases, while trying to keep different version experiences in sync.
Apps, web or native must also be maintained. Having a single code base to maintain is simpler, easier and of course cheaper.
Time to market is faster. Even if time to develop an application is similar going to market on the web simply requires deploying an update to your website. Deploying to an app store can take weeks or even a month or more before updates are released.
This delay is due to app store sensors reviewing your application code and deciding if your app is worthy of their platform.
With Apple this is becoming more and more an issue as the mobile platform giant is increasing restrictions and enforcement of ambiguous quality standards. Even when an app is accepted it does not mean it will remain in the store. Some apps with millions of paying customers have been removed without a clear explanation.
This practice alone means businesses are risking captial investments without knowing they will even be able to make their apps available to their customers.
Once an app is in the store you must promote the application. Since there is no real offering for organic search in app stores you must spend money to promote your application. While industry research varies on costs, you can expect to spend between $5-100 per app download. This varies by applicaiton genre and platform. iOS typically runs 2-3 times more than Android.
That cost is just per download. The news gets worse as the average consumer only uses an app once before they remove it from their device. Roughly 1 in 10 use an app more than once and retain the app. So the cost for an app download mentioned previous should be multiplied by 10 to get the real user cost acquisition you can expect to spend.
The web is a much cheaper platform to promote apps. In fact, you will have to use the web to promote a native app.
What if when a user responds to your ad, promotion or organic search result they have already ‘installed’ your app?
That in essence is how progressive web apps work. Just by visiting your website the PWA plumbing is installed.
The core features of a progressive web application are the web manifest file and the service worker. These assets combine to elevate your website from just a website to a full-blown application.
The web manifest file describes your application to the browser so it knows what to call your PWA, colors, how to launch it from the homescreen and more.
The service worker allows your PWA to function offline, offer native push notifications and in a few browsers sync data with the cloud once the user regains Internet access.
Because a progressive web app is secure by default, using HTTPS, it also unlocks access to many modern web platform features. Some of these include USB, Bluetooth, Geolocation and more.
The modern web platform is almost 100% feature parity with native apps. The few features not yet supported by the web are rarely used by native apps, such as location beacons. Others still have security concerns being debated before they are shipped.
These modern features allow you to ship a high-quality user experience. This improved experience should help your business see better engagement statistics.
Hundreds of major brands have reported many improvements in conversions, repeat visits and time on site. These are all key indicators that PWA improve profitability.
With everything going for progressive web apps over native applications it is probably time you upgrade your website to be a progressive web application.