Statistics on consumer mobile usage and adoption are clear: users consume twice the amount of content on mobile than they do on desktops, creating an exciting opportunity for businesses to generate engagement and improve customer experience. As a result, businesses no longer question whether they should target mobile users. Instead, they spend time wondering what the best way is to do it.
For a long time, businesses had only two choices when it came to mobile app development: stay only on the web or develop a native app. Now, they have a third choice: Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). Promising easy and affordable app building without many downsides, PWAs are often hailed as the best way how to establish a mobile presence, but are they really as great as they seem to be? Let us find out in this Progressive Web App vs native app comparison.
What is a Progressive Web App?
Instead, it relies on so-called service workers, which are scripts that the browser runs in the background, to enable many features that were traditionally available only with native apps, including push notifications, offline caching, and others. According to caniuse.com, service workers are currently supported by almost 87 percent of all internet users and virtually all major web browsers.
If there is one company that can be credited for the growing popularity of PWAs, it has to be Google. At the Chrome Developer Summit in October 2017, the company announced Trusted Web Activities, a new way to integrate web-app content such as PWAs with Android apps, allowing businesses to easily incorporate their existing web experiences into their native apps and making PWAs even more useful.
PWA vs Native App – Showdown
Arguably the biggest advantage of Progressive Web Apps is their low friction of distribution. According to comScore’s 2017 U.S. Mobile Apps Report, a majority of users (51 percent) do not download any apps in a month, with 13 percent of those who do download one or more apps on average in a month downloading just one app.
Clearly, the appetite of mobile users for new native apps has been satisfied, but that does not mean that mobile users do not crave great user experiences—they just prefer it when they happen right in the web browser. PWAs are great in this regard because they eliminate the lengthy process of going to an app store, searching for the app, waiting for the app to download and install, and then, finally, opening it.
Another advantage of PWAs has to do with their ability to work offline. Not only does offline support allow users to enjoy the app even when underground or in a rural area, but it also helps cut data usage when connected to the internet, which is especially important in emerging markets such as India and Africa.
Konga, a leading e-commerce website in Nigeria, struggled to reach customers in Nigeria, where two-thirds of mobile users connect to the internet via 2G networks, which is why it decided to create a PWA.
“We estimate that with our new light, super-fast, UX-rich browsing capability, customers’ data consumption will fall dramatically,”
– Shola Adekoya, Konga.com CEO.
That decision turned out to be good because Konga was able to reduce data usage by 92 percent for the first load by migrating to a PWA.
Of course, PWAs also have their disadvantages, with performance being the most important of them. Because native apps are developed for use on a particular platform or device using platform-specific tools and technologies, they can take full advantage of all features offered by the target OS and deliver the best performance possible.
Many Progressive Web App vs native app comparisons also mention that PWAs miss out on app store traffic. However, it has been getting easier and easier to submit PWAs to leading app stores, and we expect that it will not take a long time before they become first-class citizens on them.
Examples of Progressive Web Apps
The term “Progressive Web Apps” was coined in 2015 by designer Frances Berriman and Google Chrome engineer Alex Russell to describe a new generation of apps that take advantage of new features supported by modern browsers, including the aforementioned service workers.
Since then, businesses have created countless successful PWAs, demonstrating just how much can be accomplished with what is basically a super-charged website.
- Twitter Lite: Before Twitter released its PWA, the social media network struggled to create a desirable user experience for its mobile users, who were complaining about long loading times and poor responsiveness. Twitter Lite completely changed Twitter’s reputation when it comes to mobile, and the PWA now generates more than ten million push notifications per day.
- Trivago: It turns out that not many mobile users trust ordinary websites when it comes to doing financial transactions and submitting personal information, such as when booking a hotel room. That is why Trivago decided to launch a PWA that would provide the same user experience users are used to from mobile apps.
- Forbes: It is a well-known statistic that 53 percent of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. Forbes’s previous mobile website took 6.5 seconds to load. After releasing a PWA, the load time decreased so much that the media company almost immediately experienced an increase in readership of 12 percent.
These three examples of high-profile PWAs show why it is sometimes such a good decision to take a chance with relatively new technology instead of waiting for others to try it first.
It could be argued that “Progressive Web App vs native app” is the wrong question to ask. What matters the most at the end of the day is delivering a working product to customers, and both a PWA and mobile app can achieve that goal. Building a PWA first is a great choice for businesses with an established web presence and limited resources. On the other hand, businesses that don’t yet have a working product might want to spend money on a native app to deliver the best experience possible.
This article is a part of Handbook:Mobile App Development: Guide for Decision Makers
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