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The Future of PWAs

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A client recently asked “What are your thoughts regarding the future of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)? How prominent or non-prominent will they be and why? How does a native app compare to a PWA?”

PWAs have a Robust and Sustainable Future

Many content creators and marketers are eschewing developing native mobile apps for PWAs. PWAs are fully supported by the Android/Google/Chrome ecosystem, Microsoft is improving the experience on Windows 10, and iOS has supported the “add to home screen” function in Safari since the first iPhone. While Apple has some restrictions for PWAs on mobile, they can be overcome by the “progressive” nature of the PWA and workarounds.

PWAs are More Affordable to Develop and Support

A PWA is typically faster to develop and thus able to get to market faster than a mobile app. A PWA can be a proof of concept, or even a stepping stone to a more robust mobile app. And most, if not all, of the assets developed for a PWA can be reused if the PWA is later converted to take advantage of features only available to native apps. Depending on requirements, a framework such as Cordova or NativeScript can be used to port the PWA to the app store.

Native apps require consistent maintenance to stay compatible and work well as new mobile devices and operating systems are released. While PWAs require similar maintenance, changes are easier to deploy and don’t require app store approval.

PWAs have the additional benefit of gracefully phasing out use of depreciated browser functionality, while native apps tend to “freeze” or lock up on unsupported devices or after an OS update. The progressive nature of a PWA allows you to serve cutting edge functionality to users that have supported browsers, while still serving content to all users, regardless of device or browser.

PWAs Don’t Suffer from App Store Gatekeeping

Listing a mobile application in the Google or Apple app store can be an onerous process. Because mobile apps can gain access to device and personal information, apps submitted to the official stores are reviewed by Google and Apple for security and compliance. The app stores place restrictions on allowed functionality in a native app, and these limitations are different for each platform.

The common restriction between the two platforms is that any in-app purchases must go through the store card processing provider, resulting in a 30% fee in both stores. This well exceeds traditional card merchant service fees, which charge in the range of 1-3%.

Apple seems to encourage companies to seriously contemplate developing apps by stating “if the App Store model and guidelines are not best for your app or business idea, that’s okay, we provide Safari for a great web [PWA] experience, too.” There have been rumblings of misgivings amongst application owners for some time, Spotify and Epic Games have launched campaigns and filed lawsuits against store practices.

Native apps seem to be losing some of their appeal with users as well. There are a plethora of articles encouraging people to delete their apps, and as far back as 2017, there were surveys reporting that fewer than 50% of users were downloading at least one app per month. With users being more reluctant to download or keep an app on their device, a PWA that also serves as a primary web presence provides an introduction, persistent location, and more consistent experience for users.

The app store is crowded. We recently had a client launch a mobile app only to have difficulty finding it in search results without using very specific, non-common search terms. Conversely, a PWA shows up in search engines with all associated content indexed, which is still the primary way users discover content.

PWA Limitations Can Be Overcome

There are two common limitations PWAs encounter on Apple/iOS devices. The first is the inability to include push notifications. The second is that cached content may be cleared from the PWA if it is not used for some period of time, which means that if a user doesn’t use the PWA regularly, they may need a data connection to access it again after a period of non-use. (Though the cache clearing time frame is not documented, app data is probably deleted after 7-14 days of non-use.)

As an alternative to push notifications, a PWA can use SMS (text messaging) to reach users. For companies who expect users to use their application offline, the site can proactively alert users and provide messaging regarding the ability and length of time that content will remain available.

Conclusion

“Build a mobile app” is no longer the default solution. In most cases, a PWA is more economical for a company to develop and offers a convenient experience for the user. For companies that need a more specific experience, a native mobile app may be the right solution. A professional services company such as Useagility can provide guidance on the most effective and efficient way to get your content in front of the right users.

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