Website or App? What if you don’t have to choose?….
When discussing apps, you commonly hear talk of mobile apps (or Native apps as they’re often referred to).
So what exactly is a mobile app?
It’s a computer program designed to run on a mobile device such as a phone, a tablet or a watch. Mobile apps often stand in contrast to desktop computers and the main problem with the conventional web + app strategy it requires you to build your product 3 times: IOS, Android and Web.
Obviously, this takes time and time costs money which isn’t great, especially if you’re trying to keep your costs down….
Should you then forgo an app in favour of a website or vice versa? This is not really an option if you want to target users on all platforms. Research has shown that in order to have good reach of potential clients, a website works best. Afterall, great User Experience (UX) isn’t worth anything if you can’t acquire users. However, when it comes to keeping your clients engaged, apps sustain engagement better than websites.
It makes sense then that you would want both options in order to grow your service. Decision made then. Both platforms are best. Back to costings….to have both is expensive.
Is there a Solution?
What if there was an option that allowed you to have both in a much more cost-effective way but without devaluing the user experience of either the website or the app. Surely this is the way to go. But is there an approach that can offer this?
Thankfully an approach has been developed that can offer both and it’s known as the Progressive web app (PWA). Companies like Flipkart have proved that you can build a great app-like experience with PWA. Certainly, PWAs are an innovative new way to achieve both the reach and engagement of clients with lower costs. In fact, in terms of reach, ‘no native solution beats progressive web apps'.
What then are PWAs?
It’s not a term many people may be aware of. Or maybe you have heard of PWAs but what you’ve heard hasn’t been very positive. The term has been around since 2015 and it describes an approach for developing web experiences that combine the best of the web and the best of native apps.
Although PWAs have been around for more than 2 years now, there are still a bunch of misconceptions about them. It is often said that they can only work in Chrome, that they can’t be as smooth as native apps, there’s no full-screen mode, they have to be Single Page Applications and that building offline first isn’t worth it.
Why the Big Hitters are opting for PWAs.
Twitter Lite uses the PWA approach and is network resilient, interactIve in under 5 seconds over 3G on most devices. The reason that Twitter Lite uses the PWA approach is that PWA significantly increases engagement and reduces data usage. Nicolas Gallagher, the Engineering Lead for Twitter Lite, notes, ‘Twitter Lite is now the fastest, least expensive and most reliable way to use Twitter.’
Gallagher also highlights that PWA rivals the performance of our native apps but requires less than 3% of the device storage space compared to Twitter for Android. The PWA also optimizes images to help reduce data consumption by as much as 70% as users scroll through their timelines.
Twitter aren’t the only one making the shift. Since adopting the PWA approach, the beauty brand Lancome also saw a 53% increase in session length and sales have increased 16% year over year with overall speed increases of 50%.
The Weather channel also saw an 80% improvement in site load time from its PWA after shipping Progressive Web Apps in 62 languages to 178 countries.
PWAs are like good old websites but better. PWAs allows everyone to access the basic content and functionality of a web page, using any browser or internet connection, while also providing an enhanced version of the page to those with more advanced browser software or greater bandwidth. PWA are user experiences that have the reach of the web and are:
- Reliable — load instantly and never show the ‘downasaur’ even in uncertain network conditions.
- Fast — respond quickly to user interactions with silky smooth animations and no janky scrolling. Vital when you consider that 40% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than 3 seconds to load
- Engaging — feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.
PWAs vs Mobile Apps
The advantages offered by PWA approach over Mobile (Native) Apps? Well, as listed below, they too are plentiful:
- Installable — Easier for clients to install as it’s already available on the device, on users’ home screens without the hassle of going to the App Store, looking for the app, installing the app, waiting for the download, then opening the app. Dascalescu states that worryingly each of these steps loses 20% of potential users.
- Discoverability — content in PWAs can easily be identified as applications and found by search engines. However, a content-centric mobile app can’t expose its sub-communities to the app store as individual apps.
- Linkable — any page/screen can have a direct link, which can be shared easily without requiring complex installation
- Network Independent — works offline or on low-quality networks
- Progressive — works for every user regardless of browser choice
- Book Markability — save link to access an app’s view directly
- Always fresh — no need to go through app store approval to push updates
- Universal Access — not subject to app stores policies or (unintentional) geographic restrictions
- Large data savings — extremely important in emerging markets and/or slow internet access eg. e-commerce website Konga cut data usage by 92% for the first load by migrating to a PWA
- Re-engageable — makes user engagement easy by drawing attention, even when users aren’t using their devices.
- Responsive — fits any form factor: desktop, mobile, tablet or whatever comes next.
- Safe — delivery mechanism prevents snooping and ensures content hasn’t been tampered with.
Features ‘unique’ to Mobile Apps?
What about then, those features that are traditionally attributed to Mobile Apps? Is that still the case? No. PWAs can use traditionally native app features including:
- Push Notifications
- Working offline
- Adding an icon to the home screen
- Being installed into Android
- Receiving intents
- Clipboard access
- Accessing the file system eg Chrome and reading user-selected files in any browser
These features actually cover a lot of use cases and many popular mobile apps nowadays could be rewritten as PWA and many, including Slack’s open-source alternative, are doing so. This new level of quality allows PWA to earn a place on the user’s Home screen.
The Upshot then….?
As Dascalescu says choosing to build a PWA first is a no brainer in most cases for these reasons:
- If you target the Next Billion Users, PWAs are the way to go.
- Android users are the majority.
- Data is expensive.
So, in short, if you have desktop users, PWA is the way to go. If it’s good enough for Twitter……