Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are fast becoming a choice of those who cannot afford the cost of native mobile application. PWAs take advantage of the capabilities and accessibility of the web within the well-known app shell. These web-based apps function much like a native app would and can utilize many of the same features. There’s no download needed, just a simple launch. This makes them more desirable to many users. The progressive technology even means that browser choice won’t affect a user’s ability to experience a PWA.

This PWA technology is exciting for both businesses without any mobile app as well as those that do have a mobile app. These web apps are an entirely new channel and a unique opportunity to engage and grow a brand’s customer experience.

PWA apps hold a lot of potential. They hold some major advantages over native apps. The benefits of a PWA would be:

  • Progressive and responsive design adapts to different browser choices and fits any screen, whether its a smartphone, tablet or desktop. This will ultimately reduce development costs by allowing a business to focus on just one app, rather than building for multiple mobile platforms.
  • Accessible and shareable through a URL link, so there’s no download necessary. This means your users will have a much easier time sharing your app with their friends and family.
  • Fast loading and don’t require users to update to see the latest content or features continuously. Much like a desktop-application, the user will always know they have the latest and greatest features.
  • HTTPS security protocols protect users from malicious tactics from hackers and other unscrupulous cyber attackers. Protecting the data of the end user is paramount and goes a long way towards ensuring people use what you develop.
  • Rich with similar characteristics, navigation and functionality of native apps
  • Unhindered by the standards and intervention of a middleman app store. No approval process is required either.
  • Consistently engaging through push notifications. Need to let the user know a refresh may be needed because you just pushed out new features? A push notification can accomplish that.
  • Easier to develop and bring to market, which helps reduce costs

Many businesses who have been considering PWA are hesitant because they don’t know if these will become a permanent fixture or if they will just be a passing phase. There are two main arguments for PWAs becoming the dominant force in the mobile and web spaces.

First, PWAs aren’t a cheaper rehashing of native apps, but rather an entirely new experience that combines mobile web and native together. This is why companies with and without an app are intrigued and hopeful of PWAs.

The second argument in favor of a PWA-rich future is substantiated by the success of some earliest examples of these web-based apps:

Twitter Lite: The social media giant Twitter developed their PWA in April of 2017. The purpose of this web app is to reduce load time and data usage. Twitter Lite uses nearly 70% less data and allows the user to pick what content is loaded. This helps navigating Twitter with low Internet connectivity much easier.

Forbes: Another example of a media giant utilizing PWA technology, Forbes’ web app displays better visual content, particularly on mobile devices. And, it allows the reader to access content and read articles while offline. Android users enjoy push notifications for stories that fall under their specific interests, which helps personalize the customer experience.

Flipkart Lite: Flipkart is an India-based e-commerce site. Its PWA is an excellent example of a native-app-like experience housed in a web browser. Compared to Flipkart’s native app, this web-based effort uses three times less data and, for users that have used the home screen icon function, has increased conversion rates by 70%.

OLX: Also based in India, OLX is a classified ad platform (similar to LetGo or Craigslist). Their PWA has seen tremendous success. It has helped OLX achieve 250% more user re-engagements and 146% higher CTR. These impressive boosts to performance have helped increase OLX’s revenue and monetization.

Paper Planes: Paper Planes isn’t a branded PWA experience, but it is a good example of what’s possible with a progressive web app. This game-like app allows people to throw and catch digital paper airplanes stamped with the user’s location (province and country). Every time a plane is caught, the receiving user adds another stamp. It is worth including on this list because it’s a neat example of what’s possible in the realm of PWAs. Paper Plane users have created over 4.7 million “planes.”

Many of these early PWAs have seen an increase in key metrics. It should be noted that there is a major diversity amongst the businesses currently leveraging PWA technology. This shows that they are viable for all types of businesses, and that is extremely encouraging.

The arguments in favor of PWAs are formidable and provide a lot of evidence towards this being the real solution for better and more accessible app experiences. But (and there’s always a but), it’s also essential to analyze the arguments against PWAs.

While PWAs might load faster and use less data, they also feature less performance than native apps, which means certain feature-rich apps won’t translate to the native-ish web experience. The most prominent detraction, however, to the potential success of progressive web apps was Apple’s lack of support. However, Apple has released a beta version of service workers, allowing PWAs to perform as they are intended to.

PWAs still have some more ground to cover. We certainly have not seen everything that these web apps are capable of yet. While this leaves a lot left to be discovered, it also means there’s still some unknowns left to be discovered. In other words, the ceiling of PWAs, regarding functionality and performance, in particular, isn’t certain. And, as with any new technology, there’s always the chance that something even more unique is going to elbow its way into the spotlight.

It seems that PWAs are poised to explode in 2018. With more and more people jumping on the bandwagon, it appears these app experiences will be even more dominant by the end of the year. The following are reasons I feel PWAs will continue to grow and prosper.

  1. Native app fatigue is only getting worse: Mobile users are reaching a point of overload, regarding native apps. This is proven by the fact that the majority of consumers download zero apps per month. Thus, while users may spend the majority of their mobile media time interacting with native apps, they are really only interacting with the same 5 apps (including social media and email apps). Many of the same users are increasingly hesitant about downloading a new app. This makes it very difficult for a branded, customer-facing app to attract users.
  2. Many companies are actively looking for that next solution: Changes to Apple’s App Store guidelines caused a lot of grief for small businesses that had utilized commercial app building templates and platforms. Even though Apple has relaxed their standards a little, there are still some companies that chose a low-quality app builder and now find themselves out in the cold because they can’t leverage the App Store’s massive audience.
  3. Google’s shift to mobile-first indexing: Google’s mobile-first indexing process is expected to be completed by the end of 2018. This shift means Google will begin treating the mobile versions of websites as the primary site in search results pages. PWA experiences are indexable, which means this significant shift will make it easier for non-users to stumble across your app while searching through Google.
  4. Chrome Apps changing to PWAs: Another announcement from Google is that their Chrome Apps will now be PWAs. Chrome apps function a lot of like a PWA, but require a more significant download and draw more resources to use. Google expects this shift will be completed by mid-2018.
  5. PWA technology has matured just enough: There’s still some room left to go, even if it’s uncertain exactly how much room. That said, PWA developers have made some significant strides in developing better API’s that are capable of more functionality. This helps bring the capabilities of PWAs closer to that of native apps.

The future is always uncertain, especially when it comes to technology. By the end of 2018, we could be discussing an entirely new kind of app experience. The best we can do is hope to predict the most likely outcome. Based on how companies like Google, Twitter and others are responding to PWAs and developing their own web-based app experiences, the future looks very promising. The stage feels set for progressive web apps to break out in 2018 and grow the way that users interact with brands and their apps.

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