What is a Progressive Web App (PWA)?
A Progressive Web App (PWA) is a web application, typically optimised for mobile, that uses the latest web technology to deliver an experience like a native mobile app. PWAs are delivered via the web, so they are accessible via a simple link or URL, just like a website. Because they run in the browser, there is no need to download an app from the App Store.
Since they are a website, PWAs are also typically much easier to build, maintain and update than their native app counterparts. Paired with the advancements in web browser performance, and faster mobile phones, most apps you can think of will perform just as well on the web. At this point, native apps are only really required for anything that is graphically intensive (i.e Games) or requires deep access to mobile device internals (i.e. Proximity sensors, advanced camera controls, fingerprint scanning, NFC, or Bluetooth). In fact, you may be surprised to discover that some of your favourite apps are Progressive Web Apps, ie. Starbucks, Twitter, Pinterest and more.
There is a misconception that you need to be on the App Store for your app to succeed, but in a fast-paced online world, most consumers now try to avoid the hassle of downloading via the App Stores. Further to this point, “every additional click required to download your app sees a drop off rate of 25%”. That means you are losing users before they even see what you have built! Additionally, only 1 in 4 of those users who downloaded your app will use it more than once and an average of only 14% of users will stick around more than 24 hours after installing.
And that’s just from the users POV. What about you–the app creator? Well, if you are selling digital content, say goodbye to 30% of your top line revenue which is sent directly into Apple’s (or Google’s) pockets. You also need to build two apps or use specialised technologies to use a single codebase for both App Stores (you’re still not covering web, which receives the largest share of traffic by far). Apple and Google must also approve any changes or updates to your app before it goes live, so your users may be using an outdated or broken app in the meantime.
It simply doesn’t make sense anymore to add the additional costs and barriers to entry, when the web performs just as well, if not better.
Companies that have made the switch to Progressive Web Apps, are seeing fantastic results.
- Twitter saw a 65% increase in Page Views, and a 20% decrease in bounce rates.
- Forbes saw a 100% increase in average session time & 20% more page views
- Pinterest saw a massive 46% increase in time on site & a 60% increase in engagement
- Starbucks had complete “Feature Parity” with their native app (means all of the same features were available on the PWA as their native app) with a massive 99.84% decrease in app size… Yes, their PWA is 0.16% the size of their native app, with all the same features..
So, what are the benefits?
- Zero Install
Because a PWA is just a website, there are no downloads required. Simply send your users a link, over text, email, Facebook, Instagram, wherever. This completely eliminates the typical drop off of App Store apps. Once your users are on your PWA, you can prompt them to install, from which point the app will be on their home screen alongside all the other native apps!
- Instant Updates
Although review queues have improved quite significantly for Apple over the years–with an average of 50% of apps reviewed in 24 hours and over 90% reviewed in 48 hours (according to Apple)–there are still cases where it may take 4-5 days. And that’s assuming your app gets approved. Apple announced they rejected ~1 million apps in 2020. Google warned developers at the start of Covid in March 2020 that review times would likely slow to 7 days or more (which we experienced ourselves). By being on the free and open web, your changes and updates will instantly go live. No middle man, no review queues. The power is in your hands.
- Installable to your Home Screen just like a native app
As mentioned, PWAs can be easily installed to your phone’s home screen, with your app icon and app name. If configured correctly, when the user opens the app, it will be indistinguishable from a regular native app–no browser window, just your app in full screen.
- Tiny File Size
Because PWAs installed to a phone’s home screen are really just a bookmark to a website, they are tiny in comparison to native apps. Remarkably, Starbucks PWA is 0.16% the size of their native app, with 100% feature parity. Installing a PWA is more or less instant, with little to no storage space required.
- Discoverable & Search Engine Optimised (SEO)
Because PWAs are web-based, they can be indexed by search engines meaning your app content can be searched on Google and other search engines. Furthermore, every page within your app is discoverable since they are simply web pages.
- A Single Code Base
iOS and Android are completely different operating systems, supporting completely different programming languages. This means to build a fully native iOS and Android app you need to work on two vastly different codebases. This translates to time, money & headaches x 2.
In delivering to the web, you just need to build and maintain the web version. From there, it is available on both iOS and Android instantly, but also desktop computers, laptops, tablets, TVs, etc. One platform and one codebase, available everywhere. Not only does this improve discoverability and accessibility, but it also dramatically reduces your development costs, since web developers are much more common than Android of iOs developers and you are developing a single codebase.
- No Apple or Google Transaction Fees
Apple and Google take up to 30% of every transaction that occurs in your app, with many apps being rejected for trying to skirt their payment gateway. This is 30% of your top line revenue, that you either need to cop, or forward onto your users. With a web app, you can make use of much more affordable and open payment platforms like Stripe and PayPal.
- Available Offline
Using what’s known as “service workers”, Progressive Web Apps can be set up to “cache” data and assets on your phone. This dramatically improves performance (as images don’t need to be downloaded each time), but it also has the added benefit of rendering the app with limited or no internet connection.
- Deep Linking
With native apps, linking to content within the app requires the app to be downloaded first. If it’s not downloaded, the user will first have to download the app and often, won’t end up where you were trying to send them. In comparison, deep linking in PWAs is seamless since every page is a URL and there are no downloads required.
- Seamless Onboarding from Social Media channels
With a PWA, you can link directly to your app from Instagram, etc. and create a seamless journey for new users. With a native app, you need to figure out a journey to have your users download the app first which will look different for both Android and iOs users.
Of course, there are drawbacks that come with PWAs, but when we approached building the Movement platform, the pros far outweighed any cons, especially relative to native apps. And, we believe that PWAs are the way of the future, as they allow for true creative control and the path to profitability to remain fully in your hands.
If you’re interested in seeing how simple and quick it can be to create your own branded, Progressive Web App, sign up for Movement for free and discover the many benefits we mentioned in this post.