Are Mobile Web Pages the New Mobile Apps?

Todd Grennan By Todd Grennan May 17, 2017

There was a time when mobile apps were considered an innovative technology. In 2010, the word “app” was named “Word of the Year” by the American Dialect Society. Everyone wanted a native app—it was a race for relevance. So much so that simply building an app was seen as a legit mobile strategy.

Fast forward to today, nearly a decade later, and we can see how apps and the mobile ecosystem have evolved. Simply having a mobile app doesn’t mean you have a “mobile strategy.” In fact, we are entering a world where some companies opt not to create an app as part of their mobile strategy, or replace native mobile apps with progressive web apps.

What is a Progressive Web App?

“Progressive web app” is a term coined in 2015 by Frances Berriman and Alex Russell. In a blog post, Russell discusses how hybrid application platforms, like the Adobe AIR Application, often sacrifice features typically consistent with a web page (like linkability) for more app-like features (like the ability to work offline, to access systems APIs, and to be distributed through app stores).

This new type of app, however, takes the best of web technology and the best of mobile app technology and puts them together. At their core, they’re a combination of web technology, design concepts, and APIs that work together to create an app-like experience.

Progressive web apps makes it possible for brands without native apps to more effectively engage their audience on mobile. While native apps are definitely still useful, users typically spend 80 percent of their time on just three apps (not to mention, the cost of creating and developing an app isn’t something every company is equipped for). Essentially, it’s a pretty crowded platform and it can be pricey in the upfront, so if it doesn’t add real value to your product, it may not be a worthwhile investment. That said, with mobile being the first step in many consumer journeys, it’s imperative that marketers have a strong mobile footprint. And progressive web apps may be just the thing to fill this need.

Characteristics of a Progressive Web App

According to Berriman and Russell, progressive web apps should ideally have 9 distinct attributes. Progressive web apps should be:

  1. Linkable: Progressive web apps are easily linked, with no friction (unlike when downloading from an app store). There is nothing to install and sharing is seamless.
  2. Discoverable: Unlike a native app, a progressive web app must be able to be discovered by a search engine.
  3. Responsive: A progressive web app must be responsive to any device and form factor.
  4. App-Like: It actually has to feel like an app. Using an application shell model helps websites minimize page refreshes and keeps the app-like feel.
  5. Connectivity Independent: Like a native app, a progressive web app must be able to work in low connectivity areas or completely offline.
  6. Re-Engageable: Progressive web apps can re-engage users, like native apps, with push notifications.
  7. Installable: Instead of having to open your web browser app, progressive web apps allow you to install the app on your phone’s home screen, without having to go through an app store.
  8. Fresh: Whenever new content is created, as long as the app is online, the content will be automatically updated.
  9. Safe: Progressive web apps are safe, served via TLS (a service worker requirement)

What are the Benefits of a Progressive Web App?

One of the primary benefits of a progressive web app is that it removes a lot of the friction a native app requires before use. Think about it—adding a native app requires you to go into an app store, search for the app, approve and download the app, all before you use it. Not to mention that downloading a native app inherently requires some prior knowledge of the app’s existence or, at the very least, an intentional or premeditated search.

A progressive web app strips that entire process and allows a user to start using the app immediately. That’s an immense benefit considering how much attrition mobile apps experience from the time a user sees the app in the app store, to the time they download and create an account. According to Google’s Gabor Cselle, apps experience a 20% drop in users between every step.

Anything Else?

The web as we know it is evolving. The line between native apps and webpages is becoming hazier. In our increasingly mobile-first world, brands need to not only exist on mobile, but also create and tailor content to suit the mobile user experience. Progressive web apps could well be the next step in this new wave of mobile technology that will help marketers better connect with their mobile users.

Todd Grennan

Todd Grennan

Todd Grennan is a New York-based writer and editor. When he's not writing about mobile marketing, customer retention and emerging technologies for Braze, you can find him trying to read his way through every Wikipedia article related to World War II.

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