For some businesses, progressive web apps (PWAs) are the way to go. They offer a good balance between ROI and customer experience – as long as the project is a good fit.
Establishing a mobile presence isn’t an option anymore. It’s a requirement for companies that want to stay competitive in an increasingly connected world. Even small businesses benefit from the increase in traffic that comes from making a good mobile impression. The question of “if” has now shifted to “how”.
A New Take on Mobile
The push for mobile solutions has inspired several different approaches. Mobile websites are the easiest to set up. A company’s existing web page is simply made responsive to adjust to a more mobile-friendly format which user access through the browser.
This involves rearranging navigation, increasing text size, loading smaller or fewer images, and more. It’s easier and cheaper than other options, but that simplicity comes at the cost of customer experience.
Native apps provide the best customer experience from a usage angle. They’re downloadable programs independent of the browser. Because native apps are specific to each device, they can provide the exact use conventions customers expect.
Building for every device can be expensive, though, and customers aren’t always willing to download another app.
Hybrid apps and PWAs exist in the middle ground between these extremes. Hybrid apps are essentially a native “wrapper’ with a web app inside. The same web app can then be used for different devices.
Progressive web apps take the opposite approach: they’re apps that are hosted on a sponsoring website and accessed through the browser. There’s nothing to download, but the app can still access some device features to offer a better user experience.
PWAs can very nearly match native apps when it comes to user experience. They operate on multiple platforms; any browser that supports PWAs will run them. As of April 2018 Microsoft is also supporting them, so the list of holdouts is shrinking.
Developing progressive web apps is faster since one app can serve multiple platforms. Companies have the option to use web developers instead of pricier and more in-demand mobile specialists, so the cost is lower as well.
Maintenance is low relative to other mobile options (besides responsive sites, but those can’t even come close to offering the same level of UX). Updates can be made centrally and pushed to customers. There’s no need to download updates.
That brings up one of the most appealing benefits of PWAs: the low barrier to adoption. Users only have to click a link and allow the app to use their device’s features. There’s no download or lengthy setup required.
Of course, this isn’t a perfect solution for all use cases. PWAs don’t have full functionality on all browsers. In those cases they revert into a mobile website with no extra features. They also can’t access all a device’s features like native apps can.
Battery usage can be significantly high and load times are a bit slower than apps in general.
While PWAs outperform many mobile options, they do have lower performance than native apps. This is most noticeable with feature-rich applications and graphics or animations where there are lots of adjustable controls .
Weighing the Alternatives
Native apps and PWAs share a lot of features: offline access, push notifications, full-screen access, desktop icons, and more.
PWAs have some benefits over native. Pages can be shared via link or bookmarked. They’re easy to find, accessible by everyone regardless of device, and save on data usage.
There are some device features that they don’t have, though work is being done on accessing them. Near-Field Communication, light sensors, magnetoscope, some directional tools, shape detection, and similar functions remain out of reach.
Plus, PWAs by nature can’t usually access things like contacts, calendars, SMS, device settings, phone, and more. Users don’t like allowing those to websites for privacy reasons.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a reduced performance on feature-heavy or highly graphic apps. Those perform better on native.
Hybrid apps and PWAs can be said to be taking opposite approaches: one brings the web to an app and the other puts an app in the web. Hybrid offers slightly better performance and can mimic OS conventions for a more predictable and familiar user experience.
However, PWAs don’t need wrappers. They come closer to the “write once, run everywhere” philosophy, meaning their development costs are lower. Both have similar offline capabilities.
Mobile web pages
Progressive web apps are the clear winner here. PWAs offer far more functionality and options to users than mobile pages. Companies have increased load times by as much as 90% by switching to PWAs.
Making the Call
Mobile strategy, like all digital decisions, should be informed by business needs. PWAs can be developed quickly and on a tight budget. They are the way to go if a company is fighting “app drop” and needs to encourage adoption. However, if Apple users are the target market PWAs won’t be the right fit since they won’t run well on that OS.
Is a PWA the right choice for your company? Schedule your free consultation to take advantage of Concepta’s 12 years of experience in powering digital strategies.