Progressive web apps (PWAs) are poised to topple their native app, soon-to-be predecessors from their throne atop the best mobile app development strategies pyramid. In other words, move over native apps, your younger and better-looking sibling is taking over. That said, don’t start pulling your hair out if your business has already invested in the development of a native mobile app. Your money hasn’t gone to waste. There’s still significant value to gain from having a downloadable native app. Mobile apps, no matter the breed, are going to enter a hybrid period where consumers expect both a native app experience and a progressive web app.
The future beyond that period, however, points towards a PWA-dominated landscape. In this discussion, we’ll take a look at ten reasons why PWAs are better than native apps and create a better app-like experience for customers.
1. The World Is Increasingly Mobile
At first thought, this may seem like a win for the native app column, especially when you consider that 87% of an average user’s time on their mobile device is spent on native apps. But, we’re also hurtling towards app fatigue. App fatigue is caused by two things:
1. There are too many apps on the marketplace (over 1.5 million)
2. Most users have downloaded “enough” apps on their phone
As more and more people shifted to browsing and using their mobile devices, app developers slammed the marketplace with apps to meet this demand. Many users are reaching critical mass with the number of icons and apps that they’ll allow to populate their mobile devices’ home screens. Thus, it’s becoming incredibly difficult to convince customers to commit to downloading a new app and crowding their screens even more.
2. Search Algorithms Will Favor Mobile Soon
Towards the end of 2016, Google announced that it would shift its search engine indexing algorithms to mobile-first indexing. This change is predicted to occur in 2018 and will mean that Google will look for a company’s mobile website or experience before its desktop website. You’d be hard-pressed to find better evidence than that of a mobile future. For companies with PWAs, this change is huge because it means that your app-like experience will soon be discoverable by Google and other search engines. This is a luxury that even native apps won’t be able to compete with.
3. Fewer Clicks Means Easier Accessibility
Search engines are just one way for users to connect to your PWA. These web-based apps have always had a key benefit over native apps: accessibility. Think about how many steps are involved in downloading a native app to your mobile device. You have to access your device’s app market, search the app, download the app, accept permissions and so on. Each step is a chance that the would-be user decides it isn’t worth it. PWAs, on the other hand, are accessible the moment a user learns of its existence, by accessing the experience through a URL link.
People like to share the latest “new” thing they’ve discovered, read about, bought, tasted, touched, etc. That’s why every social media platform ever to make it big has a share function and why there are options to share this blog post at the bottom of the page. People like to share apps too, but native apps’ lack of accessibility has made this difficult. You can’t just send someone a native app. You can only tell your closest friends to check it out; it is then on them to visit the app store and see for themselves what the app is all about.
PWAs are unique, compared to their native counterparts, because they can be accessed through a simple URL link. This means that sharing a PWA experience is as easy as linking someone to a news article.
5. Usable Across More Platforms
The other detriment to native apps’ shareability is that not all apps function across different platforms. If your friend has an Apple device and you a Samsung, there isn’t a guarantee that they can get the same apps that you love on your Android-powered device because the language on their Apple devices is different. Native apps get their name because they require a native programming language. This restricts the types of devices that can “read” and allow the app to run.
Progressive web apps are unique because they don’t require any download or programming language to read. It is all web-based. Thus, not only can you easily share a PWA experience, but there’s a much higher guarantee that the recipient will be able to access the app-like website.
6. Minimal Storage Required
PWAs don’t require any sort of download; a user can access the entire experience right in their mobile web browser. Part of the app fatigue that many mobile users are facing is lack of storage. Between the apps we download, pictures/videos we take, documents we save and every other item taking up residency inside our mobile devices, we’re creating storage needs faster than the newest models of smartphones can keep up with. If a potential user has to decide between downloading your app or keeping photo #3,047 of their cat and an auto-tuned version of Beyonce’s Single Ladies saved on their device, it isn’t going to be a hard decision for them.
If you want to “download” a PWA, you can save a URL shortcut to your home screen. This functions exactly like any other icon for an app does on your home screen. When pushed, it accesses your favorite mobile browser and brings you to the URL of the PWA. Storing a URL link requires much less space than downloading an entire native app.
7. Faster Load Times
Once a native app has been installed on a mobile device, and the user has successfully committed to the whole download process, the waiting still isn’t over. The load time of native apps can range, based on the app’s size and robustness. Yet, any wait is a long wait, especially for something that you’ve already waited for to access and download. Again, progressive web apps have the edge; they load in about the time it takes to load a webpage, which with an average Internet connection is just a moment or two. For businesses, this means customers never have to wait to access your app experience.
8. Faster To Develop
Not only are PWAs easier and faster to locate and load, but they are also quicker to make. This makes them exceptional for one-off campaigns, new product releases or any other occasion where you need to bring an app to market very quickly. However, this perk does hint at the downside of PWAs; they lack the performance and number of robust features that native apps are capable of. While PWAs are more straightforward to develop, part of their ease of development is because they can’t handle a lot of the harder-to-code features that native apps can leverage.
9. Cheaper To Make, Easier To Maintain
The speed and ease at which a PWA can be developed means cheaper costs. This is excellent news for smaller businesses that have been kept out of the mobile development game because of the costs of creating a native app. Progressive web apps are also easier to maintain for both users and developers. Users don’t have to repeatedly update their app in order to get the latest features; updates are immediately applied to the web-based experience the moment the developers publish them. The developers of PWAs experience far less time to produce each update or provide general maintenance to the app.
10. PWAs Still Deliver A Lot Of Value
As mentioned earlier, PWAs do lack in one major category: performance. Native apps are capable of doing more and offering more than progressive web apps. That said, don’t count the more nimble PWA out of the count for features. First, PWAs already provide a lot: push notifications, app-based loyalty programs, location-based services and messages, even interactive games and other media. Second, PWA’s are relatively new; there’s still significant developments underway and there’s plenty left to be discovered about the capabilities of web-based apps.
It isn’t hard to envision a future where the gap between PWAs and native apps, regarding performance, is much smaller than it is today. However, even if such a future is never actualized, most businesses can service all of their app needs inside a PWA environment.
If you’re a business that is looking to enter the mobile app space and you are trying to decide between developing a PWA or native apps, the answer is easy. PWAs have lots of value presently and far, far more to come in the future. Unless your app is going to house a lot of deep, sophisticated features, a native app simply isn’t worth it. Not only do they cost a lot of time and money to develop, but it is also becoming harder and harder to encourage downloads. As PWAs gain popularity, that difficulty is only going to rise. You can also easily develop and launch PWAs without coding with an app builder.
Simply put, PWAs are the next evolution of the app experience, and they will thrive where native apps have failed by being easier to access, share and produce, while still maintaining the same level of value that native app users have long enjoyed.
Andrew Gazdecki is the founder and CEO of Bizness Apps, a company that helps small businesses build mobile solutions to compete with big brands. Their mobile app building platform makes it possible for everyone to create a mobile app for their business. When he isn’t helping small businesses, he is out surfing in the Pacific Ocean.