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Progressive Web Apps Are the Next Big Thing

by Matt Francis, Jun 20, 2017

Modern culture is a ‘now culture’. We don’t want things tomorrow, or even in a minute, we want them now. It’s not surprising then that every step you put between your potential users and your product/service reduces your onboarding rate by 20%! And then there are the potential blockers beyond your control, such as a user forgetting their Apple ID or Google Play login or a user’s phone running out of storage space. Anything and everything that hamstrings completions is a problem, which is why Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are so exciting. They skip the critical download step from the onboarding process, and in so doing, also skip a bunch of blockers that were previously beyond your control. PWA are one way you can hack growth and gain an edge on your competitors.

Progressive Web Apps 101

Progressive Web Apps are websites with the capabilities of apps. This is accomplished using the latest technologies and techniques, such as HTML5. Google describes these apps as progressive, discoverable, linkable, responsive and app-like.
Progressive Web Apps have several advantages on traditional apps, with discoverability and linkability being the most apparent. Discoverability and linkability simply mean the app can be discovered on search engines and linked to on devices with an internet connection. Factor in progressive and responsive and potential users should be able to open the app on any device by clicking on a link. While there are things PWA cannot do, this is something only they can do.

Progressive Web Apps vs. Traditional Mobile Apps

App development can be slow and expensive, but Progressive Web Apps should be less so than traditional apps. This is partly because they are web based, which means they have access to the wider web ecosystem of plugins and APIs. Being coded to work on browsers also helps with cross-device compatibility. 
But it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Progressive Web Apps also have disadvantages. While they have an edge on traditional apps during onboarding, the reverse is true when it comes to retention.
Localytics reports that 52% of users will opt-in to push messages and that these users have an 88% higher engagement rate. Overall, push notifications lead to higher retention rates.
The problem is, although new APIs allow websites to send push notifications to mobile, users are three times more likely to reopen an app than a website.
Also, because apps run directly on the mobile device, rather than on a browser, they can be better optimised and consume less online data. However, as it is still early days, it’s likely the limitations and disadvantages that are holding Progressive Web Apps back will be overcome.

Android Instant Apps

It’s perhaps no surprise that Google, who coined the term Progressive Web App, is making the biggest waves in this space. Google has recently begun limited testing of Android Instant Apps (AIA): which could seamlessly combine PWA and traditional, native apps.
App owners will not need to develop and maintain a Progressive Web App separate to its native app, instead Google will allow users to discover the app on Google Play and either download the native app or instantly access the PWA.
Android Instant Apps have the potential to make the best of both worlds. Users can easily discover an app using a search engine or a link and drive straight into engaging with its core service or product offering with the additional option to download a native app.

Where are we now, where are we going

Overall, it’s still early days for Progressive Web Apps and Android Instant Apps, but there’s a lot of promise here. I'm certainly excited.
Android Instant Apps shows a sweet spot melding of Progressive Web Apps and traditional apps. Where an app can be discovered on Google or in a Facebook message, accessed once without a download and then, later, saved to the mobile's home screen or (in the case of Android Instant Apps) even downloaded.