The hot topic in the mobile development industry is Progressive Web Apps (PWA’s). Google developers first brought the idea around in 2015 and, since then, more companies and teams have begun to explore this new approach to apps and mobile browsing.
For a small business that has developed an app, or is looking to create one, understanding what a PWA is and how it differs from the native apps that we’ve come to know is important. This information will allow you to decide better which path to choose for your brand’s app experience.
How Do Progressive Web Apps Compare To Native Apps?
Apps have become incredible micro-experiences that consumers can participate in to enhance their relationship with a brand. Native apps, which are the traditional app type and account for all of these programs currently on your mobile device, provide immense value to the customer, whether it be through a game, app-based reward program, location-based push notifications or other features. A lot of this “value” is beneficial for the customer but also helps a brand encourage return visits, produce more sales and so on.
This is precisely the reason that apps have become a substantial competitive advantage in the increasingly mobile-centric marketplace. They do so much. However, they’ve always been plagued by a few issues that can prevent many users from ever experiencing your app and its value. The most prominent crutch of native apps is accessibility. Even the best apps that are slammed with value-creating features may never see more than a few hundred downloads.
The process to connect potential users with a native app takes multiple steps. A user has to visit their device’s app marketplace, then search your app, download it, accept permissions and so on. This tedium can completely discourage users from taking part in your app experience, especially when you consider that 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load. If people don’t have the patience to wait for your website to load, they indeed aren’t committing to downloading your app.
This issue of native apps is the most significant strength of PWA’s and a large reason why this new approach to app development is being looked at as the future of apps. A progressive web app essentially encapsulates the app experience inside a web page. It still functions and feels like an app, but there is no download required; it is accessed through a simple URL link. Thus, anyone can access a PWA, without having to commit to downloading another app to their device.
Additionally, PWA’s have other upsides to their native counterparts. Native apps are thusly named because they require the native programming language of the desired platform to use. Android devices, Apple devices, they all use a different language. This means that for a business to create an app available to both Apple and Android users, they have to create two versions of that app, each written in the different, native programming language of the platform. Each separate version costs more money and development time to create. The goal of progressive web apps is to eliminate the need for multiple versions and just have a single, universal app experience.
In this respect, PWA’s are more affordable than native apps and can be developed and brought to market quicker. For smaller businesses, the low cost of PWA’s is mouth-watering. Finally, they can get into the app game without spending thousands of dollars and months in development.
It isn’t all upsides, however. PWA’s fall short of native apps in one critical area: performance. Native apps are, without question, more powerful than the newer, progressive web apps. This means that PWA’s have limitations where native apps do not. If you have an existing app or a grand vision for what your future app will look like, then you may be handcuffed by the limited functionality of a PWA.
That said, this fresh approach to app development is still only two years old. There’s a lot to still be developed, and PWA’s may have the performance and power necessary to rival native apps in the future.
Progressive Web App, Native App or Hybrid?
Given the stark differences between native and progressive web apps, there’s a lot of businesses wondering what the future of mobile will be and how they should proceed with their app-related strategies. With PWA’s added to the mix, there are three approaches to mobile apps circulating:
Strict Native App Development: This is the approach we’ve already seen at work. A business would contain its entire app experience in a download-necessary mobile app. Because of the power and performance of a native app, this experience would be much more robust than that of competitors relying strictly on PWA’s. This approach is particularly popular with businesses that can afford to develop an app of this magnitude and take advantage of all of the performance of the native platform.
Progressive Web App Development Only: This is the approach that many developers and businesses fear will be the downfall to native apps. Fundamentally, the quick access and convenience that PWA’s offer will provide more value in the customer’s eyes than the most feature-rich app that they have to download. With lower costs, less time to market and fewer hurdles, PWA’s are convenient for both the users and the developer(s). Because progressive web apps are less demanding of company resources, small businesses will leverage this approach at a higher rate than others.
Merging The PWA and Native App Experiences Together: The hybrid approach to app development uses both native and progressive web apps. This potentially allows a business to take advantage of the convenience and low costs of a PWA, but still, provide the amazing app experience that is only possible with a native app. This approach will be popular with a lot of different companies, particularly those that have already developed a native app and want to explore the possibilities that PWA’s bring to the conversation.
What Is The Best App Development Strategy For You
The answer to this question is dependant on what you want your app to do. While performance is a concern for PWA’s, the majority of apps don’t need a lot of power to run because they have a simple list of features. So, if you’re looking to produce a branded app with basic offerings, you can house that experience inside a PWA and leverage the super accessible nature of this approach.
Remember to think about the future too. Just because your app is simplistic in nature now, it may not be in your grandest of visions. As you scale your mobile strategies, you may find that the performance of your PWA is lacking and you need to introduce a native app to improve the experience.
Next, you want to think about your budget and time. How much money do you have to spend on mobile development and how quickly do you want your app to reach the market? If you have a short amount of either, a PWA will help you save money and meet that tight deadline. There are app builders available now that allow you to build an app for you business and publish to the app stores and a PWA. Time to market may not be a concern for everyone, but if you are looking to rush the release of an app to coincide with an upcoming holiday or product release, time may be your worst enemy.
Lastly, you want to think about who your users are (or are going to be). Are they avid app downloaders? Dormant lurkers? A mix? Understanding the behaviors of your target app audiences is the most challenging part; you likely won’t know how they will act until you release the app. However, you can leverage some market research to at least see which platform your target audience is most present on.
If the majority of your target users are present on one platform, Android for example, then your life is a lot easier because you don’t need to develop multiple native app versions, at least not immediately. If they are present across many different platforms, a PWA will allow you to hit more of your target audience and without having to wait for different versions of your app to be coded by a developer.
If you’ve already developed a native app that struggles to convert people into users, it may be time to investigate PWA’s or a hybrid approach to your mobile experience. Conversely, if your native app has high download rates and positive feedback from users, don’t feel that you need to abandon it for the progressive web app “future.” Doing so may cause you to lose users, rather than gain them.
Every company is different and is thereby going to have to discover how to navigate the future of app development in a way that makes sense for them. If you’ve already developed a native app, don’t be afraid that this new, PWA approach is going to make your existing app obsolete. What’s more likely to happen is that companies and app developers will try to leverage both approaches in ways that capitalize on the convenience, shareability and immediate access of PWA’s with the high-performance, feature-rich capabilities of native apps.