PWAs have proven themselves to be more than just another shiny, new technology. They’re here to stay and help improve the web and mobile experiences of every user. So what, exactly, does that mean for your business? Could your brand reap the rewards of implementing a progressive web app instead of a native app? Or would you be better off going the “traditional” route?
What Is a PWA?
A Progressive Web App or PWA is a new evolution of two very familiar technologies: native apps and websites. In short, they improve the speed, efficiency, and convenience offered by those two technologies to deliver a better overall user experience and an easier development cycle. All of those benefits can be a major boon to any business, large or small. How those effects are produced, specifically, is outlined below.
Progressive Web and Native Apps – It’s Not Either/Or
There is absolutely no reason that you can’t start with a PWA and then, once you’re up and earning, develop a specialized native app if you need to. Having a progressive web app on your side may prove that you don’t need a native app after all, but it won’t stop you from creating one.
Having a PWA can even be a sort of support for your native app. What if your native app users go offline, have a spotty connection, or move to an area where internet speeds are sub-optimal? A Progressive Web App version of your native app could be their new best friend.
As you will see below, PWAs are just as feature-rich as native apps, if they’re designed to be that way. Even if you take advantage of every bell and whistle they have to offer, progressive web apps still end up being lighter and speedier than their native app counterparts in nearly every situation. They really do make the most of everything both web and native has to offer.
Who Else Is Using Progressive Web Apps?
PWAs are increasing in popularity by the day. Brands both large and small have completely changed their platform to support this new technology (though it might not always look like it on the surface.) The five brands profiled below represent five very different industries, and yet all of them have seen incredible results from their Progressive Web Apps in just a few months.
- Lancôme – Unlike the other examples here, Lancome never launched a full native app. They never saw the technology as the right choice, given their customer base. However, when PWAs caught their attention, Lancôme become one of the first major brands to release one.
In hindsight, that turned out to be the right decision. Mobile had been an area where Lancôme was struggling to meet customer expectations. Their mobile conversion rates were significantly less than those on their standard webpage- until they released their PWA. Now, mobile conversions rival web conversions (an increase of 17%) and, as the technology is refined, may even outstrip them.
- Twitter – Twitter Lite is a new facet of Twitter meant to be “… faster, lighter, and more engaging.” Due to smart features and PWA-specific features, Twitter Lite loads faster, uses considerably less data (up to 70% less), and allows anyone, regardless of connection quality to experience the full breadth of what Twitter has to offer.
- Starbucks – Starbucks chose to move from a native app to a PWA after taking note of how much more reliable the latter was, especially in zones of low connectivity. Customers are people. They move throughout the day. By taking advantage of this fact, Starbucks has made it easier than ever for anyone to access their mobile and web ordering features whenever they get a craving.
- AliExpress – A retail facet of the Alibaba Group, AliExpress is a popular e-commerce platform where users can buy goods from sellers located across the globe. Their previous mobile iterations were plagued by long load times and sizing glitches. Now, with a PWA offering a cohesive cross-platform experience, AliExpress is seeing a lot more business form new users, with both new and returning users spending twice as long on the site.
- The Weather Channel – The weather channel provides weather information in 178 countries around the world. Their problem? Load times. With an average of 40B forecast requests a day, this application needed to increase the speed at which it delivered that information. With the launch of it’s PWA, load time was decreased by 80%, on average.
How PWAs Can Help Your Small Business Grow
From the examples above, it’s easy to see how progressive web apps can help grow an audience and please existing customers. What about small businesses with limited reach? Are progressive web apps even available to small businesses with limited budgets? In nearly every case, if you’re asking these questions, a PWA makes perfect sense for your business.
As explained below, progressive web apps are meant to bring better content to more people. They are lighter, faster to build and run, as well as being cheaper to maintain in the short and long term.
Convenience and Speed
Native apps must be downloaded, then installed before their first use. Web applications don’t have to be either, but they also tend to be slower and may not work on mobile. PWAs can be accessed from a browser, shared with just a link, and load in seconds. They are built on a technology that supports the idea that everyone should have equal access to content. That means more customers get to see what you have to offer.
PWAs Work for Everyone, Anywhere
Progressive web apps first gained ground among businesses with a stake in developing regions. Places with low connectivity simply do not have the same options as those with high-speed connections. By creating a PWA and making it available to rural and developing markets, not only might you gain access to an entirely new market, but you will prove to yourself and your new customers that speed and excellent user experiences can coexist.
Better UX for All
Today, people expect a better user experience. Websites that run smoothly, have a more intricate user experience, or are simply “prettier” tend to use a lot of data. For customers that don’t have access to a decent mobile data plan, accessing one of these websites is a sacrifice or a slog.
With a PWA, things don’t have to be that way. The way progressive web apps can adapt an experience to a user’s limitations results in smaller file sizes in addition to the lack of initial download or caching.
Can a progressive web app access device hardware? Yes and no. It depends on the hardware you are looking at. In most cases, camera and microphone access are supported. Newer devices are more likely to be able to take advantage of these functions, but support is being expanded. Gyroscopes, facial recognition, and touch gestures are fully supported.
The only things missing are sensor integration. Though GPS works, light and proximity are questionable at the moment. PWAs are also tricky to interface with other PWAs at this time directly.
Push Notifications and Interaction
Progressive web apps add an additional advantage to web experiences, aside from speed and ease of use. That advantage is the ability to communicate with your customers. Like a native app, you can send push notifications to anyone who has opted to receive them. They don’t have to have a bookmark for your progressive web app or sign up for anything. All they have to do is click “yes” to sign up. The ask itself is fairly unobtrusive and most customers feel less resistance to log in than they do to download a native app.
Ease of Development and Lower Costs
Any business would like to spend less time and money on web development if they could do so and still produce a stellar product. Progressive web apps let you do that. With a PWA, you don’t need to create multiple versions of the same thing, that save time and money.
The same PWA works just as well on Safari as Android. It can adapt from a standard desktop monitor to the latest iPhone. That adaption extends to patches, too. Just one patch for your single PWA means much, much less time spent reworking the same fixes and developments. That savings can then be used to expand your business in other ways.
This technology is already available and can be built using easy to use app builders. Users can create a PWA without any coding or design experience. They will be able to create a PWA for their desktop and mobile presence for a unified presence.
The Things PWAs Can’t Do.
As web-based technologies get better and more devices support them, this section will get smaller and smaller. As it stands, however, there are just a few things that PWAs can’t do, compared to native apps.
The list of features off-limits to PWAs is short: ambient light, proximity sensors, NFC, Bluetooth, and geofencing. Most businesses, unless those technologies are part of their products or services, won’t use those features and their absence won’t be felt. Further, access to a few of those may be added as the technology becomes normalized.
Unless Your App Is Your Business, PWAs Make Sense
For everyone who has a business outside of their app, a PWA would benefit you. As you can see from the examples above, the benefits work in just about any industry be it products and service delivery, information distribution, social media, or e-commerce. Unless you’re selling apps in and of themselves, a PWA is the way to go.
Then again, even if you do sell apps, whose to say offering a similar experience through a PWA wouldn’t be a smart move, too? With all of the subscription options out there, taking advantage of the lightness and speed of a progressive web app could give you an edge over your competitors. Even some of the best native apps have loading times and lag that are on the cusp of unacceptable. Switching over to a progressive web app format could potentially solve those problems.