As CEOs of growth companies, our time is limited. We know that it is critical that we stay on top of the latest trends in technology, but we don’t really have the time to dig in. The goal of this series of posts is to review a number of the major technology trends and to provide practical business applications that are in use today. In this post we will be looking at Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and the types of scenarios for which this technology should be considered.
Native App Vs. Web Application
I am frequently asked about the pros and cons of building a native app vs. building a web application. At a high level, native apps are resident on your mobile device and take full advantage of native phone functionality (camera, sms messaging, geolocation). Because they are on the device, they are much faster to load than web-based solutions. They can be used in offline modes as well for scenarios in which there is no internet connection available.
While those are the advantages, there are a number of glaring disadvantages. They are not discoverable (not indexed by Google) which affects search rankings, not to mention that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get users to download and use your app in the first place. Further, native apps are more expensive to develop, as you generally have to build multiple versions (android & IOS) plus a solution for web.
The Progressive Web App (PWA)
What if somehow you could get the best of both worlds, with the speed and engagement of native apps along with the discoverability and efficiency of mobile web? This is the objective of the PWA. Progressive Web Apps use modern web capabilities to deliver app-like user experience. They evolve from pages in browser tabs into immersive, top-level apps.
Key attributes of the PWA:
- Progressive - because it works for every user on any browser and it gets better over time
- Responsive - because it fits any form factor
- Connectivity Independent - because it is designed with the worst network in mind
- App-like - as a result of the separation of functionality from application content
- Fresh - due to service workers updating content in the background
- Discoverable - since search engines are better able to identify it as an application
- Re-engageable - through features like push notifications
- Placeable - on a user’s home screen for easy access
- Linkable - through a simple url.
Forbes' PWA screenshot, as featured in the Innovation in Magazine Media 2017-2018 World Report
Early adopters of the PWA reap rewards
Forbes recently replaced its responsive web solution with a PWA and found dramatic improvements in user engagement. They saw a 43% increase in user sessions and a 100% increase in session duration. They are able to seamlessly allow Forbes readers to instantly view content including video and even save articles and podcasts for future offline viewing. Forbes mobile pages now load fully in 8/10 of a second compared with 2-10 seconds for other news sources, which enables a much more seamless storyline experience as the user navigates content.
PWAs are not just for publishing. Alibaba, the world’s largest shopping site, launched a PWA earlier this year. The results were spectacular. They saw an immediate 76% improvement in conversion on mobile traffic. They saw their monthly users climb by 14% on IOS and 30% on Android. Finally, they saw a 4X increase in adds to users’ home screens, which means that these consumers are more likely to be repeat customers now that the PWA icon is on their phone.
PWAs are championed by Google, which brings a number of benefits. The most important one is that they are fully supported by the developer community. See this handy checklist for PWAs. Similar to accelerated mobile pages, Google is favoring PWAs in search results, which will bring you more traffic. In fact, Google is so confident that PWAs are the future that they recently announced that they are killing all Chrome apps as well as shutting down the Chrome apps section of the Google app store.
PWAs have been around for 2 years, and the technology continues to improve. We can all thank Adam Barr for keeping track of the latest browser capabilities at www.whatwebcando.today. You can see from his chart below that there are very few traditionally native app features that are not supported by PWAs today. Even so, PWAs are still at the very early stage of adoption. Those who have taken the leap have been very successful across multiple industries, in both b2b and b2c categories. If you are looking for a fast-loading, immersive mobile experience that is also discoverable and accessible to everyone, PWAs may be just what you need to win in your industry.
Tom West is a career Digital Business Leader having run multiple top 100 ecommerce sites as President and general manager. Today he acts as a digital director for multiple companies and helps many more to reach their full digital potential through his company, Springbox. You might also like Tom's Practical CEO Guide to Digital Transformation.