The Web is changing all the time. Though mostly imperceivable to everyday internet users, behind the scenes, the way the Web works is progressing: new technologies are emerging, promising to make the Web faster, more secure, and more performant.
We already know the impact that a poor user experience has; one of the goals of the web is to make the experience better, from a quality and performance point of view, forming a frictionless interaction for casual browsers and consumers alike.
On the frontlines of these technological advancements are the web browsers themselves. Made for everyday people yet built with web developers in mind, there are five main browsers in contention today: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer’s Edge, and Opera. These browsers are the primary tools we use, whether on desktop or mobile, to get what we want out of the Web.
As the demands of internet users continue to unfold, browsers must adapt to these new requirements to remain competitive. Technology is evolving on a global scale and the humble Web browser must remain in lock-step, paving the way for growth and defending their right to exist. And they are doing just that.
The Story of Native Apps (in brief)
Before a couple years ago, Apps typically came in two flavors: Apps for Apple and Apps for Android. What this meant for most businesses was if they wanted to reach the majority of their customer base, they would have to develop for two different platforms.
Here, businesses faced either a doubling of development costs or being forced to leave a significant portion of their market out in the cold. As the cost of developing an App for even a single platform could extend into the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, for many businesses, having a proprietary App was simply out of reach.
Now, as mobile usage continues to out-do its desktop counterpart, businesses have to reconsider. However, presented with the traditional options of developing a high-cost application (for one or both platforms) or not engaging at all, making a decision is often a non-starter (or at least a painful and deflating one).
The Silver Lining
Despite this unfavorable outlook, there is a silver lining hiding amongst the grey. As the demand on the Web continues to increase, the browser developers have stepped up into a leadership role and are making possible the ability to do-away with traditionally thorny and divisive “Native Apps” (apps that only work on one platform, like Android).
In the web community, they are called Progressive Web Apps, and they are already taking the place of many native apps as we’ll soon see.
PWAs exist on the internet and are accessed through your browser just like any website. They can look and feel just like Native apps but open up a whole new world of accessibility, reach, and reliability previously unavailable to app developers – and businesses.
PWAs are built with the languages of the Web which means anyone with a web browser can access your App and begin engaging with it right away.
There is nothing to download and no trip to the App Store required. Because a PWA is built with the same languages as a website, there is no need to develop for device-specific platforms anymore and no need to rely on any App Store to be the gatekeeper of your App (although you can list your PWA on the App Store if you wish).
Let’s Talk Download
While app downloads have steadily been on the rise since 2017, getting people to use your app can be something altogether different.
There is this idea of friction when it comes to somebody actually engaging with your app. Before PWAs and being able to access apps over the internet, traditionally, downloading an app required a certain level of buy-in to get started with (often requiring multiple steps before you can actually start using the app).
What’s more is that it isn’t uncommon for native apps to be data-heavy, bulky programs that must be downloaded directly to your device, and with more quantity than quality on the app store, this isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time.
PWAs greatly reduce the perceived friction involved in getting started with your app. When you visit a site using a PWA, there is no barrier to entry. On first load, the browser is smart and downloads only what it needs to provide the user with an immediate experience, reducing heavy download costs and speeding up time-to-first-interactivity. Yay!
Resources needed for subsequent pages – or when an update is required – are downloaded and installed silently behind the scenes. The only action required by the user is to engage with your app. Easy.
Thanks to built-in browser storage, PWAs can even work without an internet connection, and because a PWA is built with the languages of the Web, Search Engines are able to crawl and index your app just like any other web page. This offers some huge SEO benefits! The same cannot be said for Native Apps.
A Further Look Under the Hood
Here are a few more ways Progressive Web Apps are bridging the gap between the experience of Native Apps and the broad reach of the Web:
- Allow users to add your App to their Home Screen, enabling access to your App with the push of a button
- Instant subsequent load time thanks to the way browsers manage and cache resources
- Ability to send Push Notifications to the user’s device (great for user re-engagement)
- Progressive by nature, older devices will degrade gracefully while modern devices can take full advantage of all the features offered by PWAs
- No barriers to use, no install required and no dependency on App Stores
- Ensured security as PWAs only work on the HTTPS protocol
- Appears in the device Taskbar like a Native App
Apart from this list, a PWA has the power to interact with many of the native features of your device, such as Geolocation, microphone and camera, Bluetooth, device vibration, screen orientation, battery status and much more. More capabilities and enhancements are on the way, too, including NFC (near-field-communication), ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, accelerometer, and more.
The benefits of PWAs greatly outweigh their limitations. Except for a few specific features, PWAs can do all the same tricks a Native App can do and support for these outstanding features is on the way.
And Now: Case Studies
In case you still had doubts about PWAs, here are a few examples of some of the companies that have adopted Progressive Web Apps:
With over 80% of its users on mobile, Twitter wanted a faster, more engaging and more reliable web experience for its users:
“Reaching a broad set of users is important for Twitter, including those in emerging markets where lower download speeds and less powerful mobile devices are common. Twitter Lite helps reach this audience more effectively by making Twitter faster and easier to use in low-bandwidth conditions.” —Source
Since switching to using a PWA, the cost to download Twitter has reduced dramatically:
Since launching the PWA version of Twitter, they’ve seen:
- 65% increase in pages per session,
- 75% increase in Tweets sent
- 20% decrease in bounce rate
Not unlike Twitter, the Washington Post realized that providing a great reading experience to their mobile users was critical to their long-term success. Part of that success was decreasing the time to load as more than half of people will abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
After deploying a Progressive Web App, they saw their load time improve 88% with a 23% increase in retention:
Forbes is another content-driven company that saw the value in switching to a PWA. Here’s what they had to say:
Alibaba, the global e-commerce Giant, noticed that getting app installs and user re-engagement with their Native App was a challenge. After switching to using a PWA, Alibaba saw a 104% increase in conversion rates and 74% increase in time spent using the app:
Wanting to expand into international markets, Pinterest focused on developing their mobile web experience. After investing in a PWA, they saw a 40% increase in time spent using the App, user-generated ad-revenue went up 44% and core engagement up 60%:
On top of that, the cost to download the app was reduced significantly:
This list highlights only a few of the companies embracing PWAs. Others include Trivago, Fandango, FlipKart, Lancome, Virgin, The Weather Channel App, and lots more.
Where To Go From Here
We’ve looked at the exciting ways PWAs are combining the best of Native Apps with the reach and flexibility of the Web. With PWAs available now, businesses have to wonder whether or not they really need a device-specific app anymore.
PWAs provide device-agnostic experiences for anyone and from anywhere with an internet connection (and sometimes even without one!). Whether you’re using older technology or the latest and greatest smartphone, PWAs remove the obstacles to users finding and engaging with your PWA.
In pace with the Web and modern browsers, PWAs offer a safe, fast, and light-weight App experience while still providing useful and popular Native App features like ‘Add to Home Screen’ and ‘Push Notifications’. All at once, they improve the user experience, decrease download cost, and introduce discoverability by Search Engines.
As time rolls on, we’ll begin to see even more a blurring of the line between where Native Apps end and PWAs begin. Happy web browsing!