7 ways that Progressive Web Apps are killing regular old apps

By Will Morris, Managing Partner at Alchemy Digital

Forget fidget spinners – Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are the next big thing for consumers and brands alike. By taking the best functionality of native apps (those designed for a specific device, platform or operating system and leveraging operating system features and functionality to increase speed and performance) and enabling access via a browser and a URL, PWAs can solve real business challenges.

There’s no doubt as a population we are suffering from ‘app fatigue’. MobiLens reported in September 2016 that 51% of UK adults install no apps at all each month on average. There are currently more than two million apps on the App Store and Google Play, rendering it extremely difficult to be ‘discovered’ by users.

Apps may run our lives today, but PWAs could in fact peel the death knell for the App Store, Google Play etc. – and fast. They look like native apps, they smell like native apps and they work… well, actually they work better than native apps. But, this next disruption in web is set to open up the advantages of having your own app to everyone, and at the same time being better, faster and cheaper.

Here’s why we believe PWAs are going to cause many brands to drop their regular apps in the not-too-distant future:

1. Build once, deploy everywhere: low cost

Apps have historically been out of reach financially for many companies. Not just because it costs tens of thousands of pounds to simply develop the foundation, but once you factor in all of the different types of operating system, as well as maintenance updates (and even the cost of people not using it because it doesn’t perform well) there would have to be a pretty big return to justify having one. Sure, you could use a template for it, but it isn’t going to function beautifully in line with your brand, and it simply won’t be scalable if you grow. PWAs don’t need to be built several times to work on different platforms or devices, and any maintenance or feature updates don’t need to be performed three times – build once, deploy instantly, everywhere. PWAs are one of the most open innovations in recent years, enabling even small brands and businesses to take advantage.

2. Works offline

The beauty of PWAs is they work online and offline (the latter via Service Workers – technical term for background sync), which is particularly valuable in areas of low connectivity or no coverage (or for us, the London Underground!). And because it acts like a native app, it can even work with existing software on the phone, such as vibrate for notifications. PWAs are also re-engagable. This means that a user can go away and come back to the app without having to re-load it.

3. Fast and responsive

PWAs emulate a native app in terms of performance and importantly, speed. By the time you’ve found the app you want in the App Store for example, then had to download it (with coverage being an issue for large files), then had to register to use it, or simply wait to even engage with it… the PWA was up and running in seconds. Online or offline, it doesn’t matter – it’s still fast, does not need to install anything. It’s light use of the RAM translates into phenomenal user speeds, meaning that users ditch them less often, spend more time on them and have a much more frictionless and seam-free experience.

4. Continuous delivery

Again, another expensive process for app owners, which can quickly become out of date with costs spiralling. Any time one of the big three operating systems for mobile phones updates, apps are often expected to update too. Any time an app develops a bug or glitch, or needs some minor improvements to design, it needs to be updated three times. Each time, apps must be re-submitted to the application store of choice, which takes time for approval. By the time it is approved and launched, it’s likely to be out of date again. PWAs do away with this and present continuous delivery. Need an update? No problem – changes can be delivered directly to the PWA without notification or re-downloading or even having to visit anywhere else. It is seamless and imperceptible (unless your favourite PWA has decided on a snazzy tartan branding overnight).

5. User privacy is better protected

Some websites and apps have come under fire time and time again in the media for dodgy privacy policies requiring extensive use of cookies (typically five or six, and users are able to opt out by EU law), cache data, access to phone functionality (such as the camera) and personal information in order to operate effectively. PWAs do not require this volume of data to work; they use a complex code that runs in the cache, with code stored on the device after the first use. PWAs respect our increasingly privacy-conscious culture, which can only be considered a valuable feature today.

6. Increased speed to market

The increased speed to market and low cost of PWAs in comparison to regular apps come hand in hand with their cost effectiveness and low capex and opex. Businesses and brands can get their apps to market much faster because they are not regulated by network operators or application platforms/stores, and can be made available as quickly as the owner wants. This also goes for continuous delivery of maintenance updates: no application store approval periods, and no need for the user to wait to get their hands on the app, since PWAs are installed on the device by simply adding it to the home page. As a result, both SMEs and enterprises alike benefit from that same competitive edge.

7. Users are more engaged with the brand

Discoverability of PWAs is slightly different from regular apps. They aren’t available on app stores, but instead users must seek them out from the mobile websites of the brands and companies they engage with. Since PWAs require a URL to discover, it is increasingly likely that a user will be already engaged with that brand. Twitter, for example, has proven the engagement value of PWAs. Its own web app, Twitter Lite, has seen a 75% increase in tweets sent since it introduced an “add to homescreen” prompt on its page. It now has more than 250,000 unique daily users launch the app from their home screen four times a day on average, with 10m push notifications arriving each day.

PWAs have technically been around for a couple of years, but if the murmurings among influencers and our customers are anything to go by, they are set to take off in a big way. Following the lead of many big brands already getting in on the act, including the BBC, Twitter and eCommerce stores like Lancome, including a PWA in your digital strategy should be the next natural step, especially if your existing app isn’t performing well or you need to bear the cost. They’re also low risk investments and make the absolute best of your brand within your Smart Digital Strategy.

If you’d like to learn what a PWA can do for your brand, come see us for a cup of tea and a chat!