Apps are dead, long live PWAs!
Now, this phrasing is, of course, over the top. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) aren’t going to replace native apps anytime in the near future. They are, however, going to change how we perceive what an app is or should do. And even more so, they will determine how we perceive what a website should be able to do.
It is getting increasingly difficult to get a user to install your native app. A comScore study shows that about half of smartphone users install ZERO apps per month. None at all. And yet, mobile traffic is reaching higher numbers than ever before. So we must face the fact that a majority of this traffic reaches you via a mobile browser. That is where PWAs come in.
PWAs are, in essence, website builds that offer a much-improved mobile experience, virtually indistinguishable from an app experience. They can send push notifications and be added to the user’s home screen. From that point forward, they are used just like a native app, but skip the install that so many users try to avoid. Instead of making your user close the browser, open the app store, find your app, install it, and look again for the page they were interested in, you can provide the app experience right there in the browser.
The underlying technology, called a service worker, is a script that independently fetches information from a server in the background. This happens when a user opens a website on their device for the first time. As a result, the site will load much faster the next times it is opened. It can even keep its functionality when the device has no internet connection.
While the technology is still relatively new, several companies have already had great success with it. Nigerian e-commerce firm Konga, for instance, completely rebuilt its website with PWA features. Even the first load of its new site took 92 percent less data than the previous one had.
AirBerlin reduced the load times for its revamped post-booking experience to less than one second. The Washington Post, in an experimental PWA that features a feed of top stories, reduced load times to around 80 milliseconds.
Quicker load times, slick performance, and eliminating the app installation hurdle also improves conversion, meaning that more visitors will actually make a transaction or engage with your site. The online marketplace Selio saw similar engagement figures in their native app and their PWA, but user acquisition was up to ten times cheaper with the PWA.
Chinese e-commerce giant AliExpress saw double the number of page views, with engagement rising by 74 percent. AliExpress also eases doubts that PWAs would do nothing for iOS users, as Safari does not support the service worker technology. PWA websites still work, even if they won’t provide the same functionality on iOS as in Chrome or other browsers. Proving this point, AliExpress experienced an 82 percent growth of traffic-to-transaction conversions even on iOS.
The time to invest in PWAs is now. comScore says mobile web audiences are almost three times the size and growing twice as fast as native app audiences. Google is currently planning to also include PWAs in their Play store. And unofficially, Safari developers are contemplating supporting the service worker technology in the future.
So, while native apps will not be replaced anytime soon, PWAs are slated to become a new way to leverage the ever-growing web audiences. Apps are not dead, they just got a stepbrother.
Apps are dead, long live PWAs!