If you have any doubts about how important mobile is to your business, let this stat sink in: 77% of our online usage is now happening on smartphones. And the overwhelming majority of that time, almost 90%, is spent using apps—primarily because they are faster and easier to use than most mobile websites.
So your business needs an app, right? Sort of. It’s safer to say it needs a faster and easier to use mobile experience. And for that, “native” apps—the ones we download from an app store—are not your only option. Over the past few years, a new kind of app has been quietly gaining momentum, one that’s often less expensive to build, easier to maintain and just as effective at engaging customers: the Progressive Web App, or PWA.
A PWA looks like an app. It feels like an app. And it can do nearly anything an app can do. But it’s built using universal website technologies rather than native phone technologies. This small distinction delivers big benefits to both your customers and your business.
PWAs are accessed online like websites, and they can be installed instantly with a single tap. This means you avoid the rigamarole—and revenue sharing—of distributing your app through the App Store or Google Play Store. It also means people are more likely to use your app. Download rates for native apps have been steadily declining, while PWAs have markedly higher install rates than native apps. (Data suggests up to 3-5x higher install rates.)
PWAs are device-agnostic; the same code runs on both Apple and Android devices. You can design, build and maintain a single app, and it will work on all smartphones, tablets and even computers. This saves on design, development and ongoing maintenance costs, and it lets you meet your customers where they are, regardless of their hardware preferences. (You can show love to those Windows Phone holdouts.)
PWAs are always up to date. As your team adds content, features and enhancements, they are immediately available to your customers. Bugs can be fixed on the fly without your customers ever needing to download an update. Like native apps, they can also be used offline.
Finally, unlike native apps, PWAs contribute to your SEO equity. They get crawled by Google like any other website, so your app’s valuable content becomes indexed, searchable and ranked. If your PWA lives within your overall website, that SEO equity adds to your site’s authority.
There must be a downside, right? Again, sort of. PWAs can’t (yet) access some of the information stored on your phone like calendar events, contacts and photos [verifying]. They also can’t (yet) take advantage of your phone’s motion-sensing features [verifying]. But the web browsers on Apple and Android devices are supporting more native features for PWAs with each new release. The gap between native apps and PWAs is quickly closing.
Of course, all of this assumes your PWA is designed to be as immersive and mobile-friendly as a native app. The reason native apps are typically easy to use is because they are designed and built by experts of mobile design and development. Conversely, the reason many mobile-optimized websites feel like an afterthought is because they were designed and built by experts of desktop design and development.
Given the pluses and minuses of each approach, how do you determine if a PWA is the best choice? Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your app is your product or service, it may be more successful as a native app. But if your app helps you deliver your product or service, a PWA may be the way to go. Ultimately, the success of a PWA (and a native app for that matter) relies on its being strategically grounded in measurable business objectives and consistent with a product or company’s brand.
It was 2009 when Apple told iPhone users “There’s an app for that.” Just over a decade later, there’s a growing movement toward PWAs. Yes, there will still be “an app for that,” but it will be increasingly liberated from app stores and ready to help consumers and brands interact more easily than ever before.
Keegan Linder has been helping brands improve their online experiences for over 15 years at the helm of his digital creative agency, Sposto Interactive. Denis Aumiller is Creative Director of Lehigh Mining & Navigation, an integrated advertising and branding agency in Allentown.