Although they emerged strongly, native web applications are not as popular today as they were in their early days for consumers and companies. The need to download and host them on their smartphones is sometimes an insurmountable nuisance for users. And their high production and maintenance costs make the cost-benefit ratio not interesting for some brands. Progressive Web Apps have become an alternative to traditional native apps. In this article we take a look at how these applications have evolved in recent years since their emergence and analyze their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s get started!
What do we mean by ‘native app’?
In 2007, Steve Jobs presented an invention that would revolutionize the world as we know it: the first iPhone. From this moment, smartphones quickly became one of the most important items in people’s lives. And with them came applications: software that is downloaded directly to mobile phones from the marketplaces of operating systems that basically bring meaning to smartphones, allowing us to perform a multitude of tasks in addition to making phone calls: playing video games, reading news, checking weather information, taking a guided tour of a museum, managing our bank account, shopping online… And above all, writing messages to our friends and interacting with them on social media. Currently, almost 15 years after the launch of the first iPhone, Apple claims to have over 2.5 million applications in its App Store, which gives an idea of their exponential growth.
These types of applications are what we currently know as native applications (or simply apps). Having been developed specifically for the operating system in which they will be used (Android or iOS) they can take advantage of all the tools of the phone to offer a more complete service and smoother operation. Apps have access for example to our camera, our geolocation, our accelerometer or our contacts, among many other things, and can send us notifications and alerts.
Drawbacks of native applications
So far so good. However, although it is true that apps were born with the firm purpose of streamlining the relationships of users with services, their operation is not always the most optimal.
Let’s suppose for example that I wanted to buy tickets for a movie using the application of a film distributor: first I would have to go to the marketplace (App Store in my case), search for the application, download it (which means data consumption and less space in my phone memory), register and finally buy the tickets. It is true that this process should only have to be done once, but the truth is that it is not always that simple.
Mark Zuckerberg: «I don't know anyone who likes having to install a new app on their mobile for every business they regularly interact with»
On one occasion, Mark Zuckerberg, creator and director of Facebook, stated: “I don’t know anyone who likes having to install a new app on their mobile for every business they regularly interact with”. And he was not wrong: once we install an app on our mobile device, either they become part of our day to day or we eliminate them in just a few hours. And to think that our company’s app will be in the firts group is being quite optimistic: according to a study we have about 30 applications per device on average, of which we actively use only 14, which are mostly the ones that come pre-installed in the operating system, games and, above all, messaging and social media applications. So, returning to the case of the movie tickets, a user would only keep the app on their phone if they were going to watch a movie every weekend, but if they don’t, it is very likely that they will uninstall it sooner or later.
On the other hand, if you want to reach the widest audience, launching an application for your company requires developing it at least for two platforms, Android and iOS. This means more teams, more time and more money.
What are web applications?
Because of all this, developers soon began to investigate a way to improve apps so that they did not have to be downloaded from a marketplace, did not occupy space in memory, were easier and cheaper to develop, were easily updated… Then they realized that what they were really looking for had already existed for some time: the webs.
Like apps, websites also serve to perform actions. On a website I can also play video games, read news, check weather information, take a guided tour of a museum, manage the bank account, shop online… I can even write messages to my friends and interact with them through social media (which were websites before they were apps). And thanks to responsive design, websites are also fully accessible from both a computer and a mobile phone. But also:
They are cheaper because, unlike native apps, with the same development you can reach all devices, regardless of the operating system they use. The only thing that conditions their visualization is the type of browser that each user uses, but even so only a single development with minimal adjustments is needed to make it compatible with the most minority browsers.
They are continuously updated because the user is always going to access the latest version without having to take any action on their part. However, native apps sometimes require their users to update from one version to another, which causes service discontinuity for a time: some users with one version and others with another one.
They are easier to distribute because you do not have to promote them through the market places. Unlike native apps, websites do not have to meet any requirements or limitations in order to be published. They are positioned organically or through paid campaigns on Google, where most users conduct their searches when they need some product or service.
They are lighter because they are not installed on the users’ devices. They are accessed using a browser, something that all mobile devices have installed by default.
They are more accessible, as they do not need to be downloaded, installed or configured, as is the case with native apps.
However, technically websites are more limited than apps because they cannot take advantage of the resources offered by the device itself. Or can they?
Progressive web applications
We could say that Progressive Web Apps are in a middle point between native applications and web applications, bringing together the best of both houses. They are basically websites that work through a browser (Chrome, Safari, Opera, Firefox, Samsung…), but through the use of service workers, Cache API and Web Storage API they can incorporate functions that bring them closer to native applications. The access to the functionalities of the phones from a PWA is limited but, in most cases, sufficient.
Progressive Web Apps can send push notifications: just like an app, which is tremendously useful.
Progressive Web Apps can run in the background, so the most updated information is always displayed when accessed, without constantly refreshing the browser.
Progressive Web Apps load much faster than web applications, which will help you reduce the bounce rate.
Progressive Web Apps are not something new and service workers are already compatible with most web browsers, so they can basically be used in any project.
In summary, a progressive web application takes the appearance and usability of a native application but without its drawbacks (which are many). With all these advantages (both on the business side and the user side) creating Progressive Web Apps for your business is an option to consider very seriously. In fact, if your audience is highly fragmented across different platforms (quite likely), if your budget is limited or if you need to launch your product quickly, then Progressive Web Apps are not an option: they are your solution.
But Progressive Web Apps are not just an alternative to native apps. They are the future of web browsing. As we’ve seen, web applications have their advantages, but in an increasingly mobile world, improving their experience on these types of devices is essential if you want to enhance the retention of your users with a faster, more convenient, and more complete product.