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Will Progressive Web Apps Ever Replace Native Mobile Apps?

Google came out with its new and innovative approach to app development a couple of years ago and it has been quite a hit. The primary aim here was to move away from platform-locked design with limited functionality to something more dynamic.

As a result, this new approach was fittingly called a Progressive Web App (PWA) development. There was a lot of excitement at the time because it promised to provide an experience that fused together the best qualities of native apps with the web.

The term was coined by Alex Russell, a Google Engineer and Frances Berriman and the end goal was to make PWA preside over mobile apps because of some key advantages (which I will get to shortly).

What is a PWA?

Web technologies have also evolved significantly in recent years and now even companies that can’t afford to pay a bunch of developers to achieve a rich mobile experience can attain it through progressive web apps.

PWAs are nothing more than a website that is enabled to deliver a mobile app like experience. It’s able to achieve this by taking advantage of modern web technologies.

Some great examples of PWAs are as follows:

  • Flipboard
  • Paper Planes
  • The Washington Post (who increased engagement by 5x with PWA)
  • Twitter Mobile

Some of the key benefits to using PWAs are as follows:

  • Consistently fresh as the content is continuously updated in the background
  • Easily discoverable as search engines are enabled to identify it as an app
  • Fast loading
  • Exactly the same experience as a mobile app (which can’t be replicated by websites)
  • Installable on mobile home screens
  • Linkable via URL
  • Offline functionality (connectivity independent)
  • Progressive as it works on any browser
  • Push notifications
  • Responsive interface (that fits any form factor)
  • Secure as it’s served over HTTPS

This initiative makes total sense because as much as 70% of global economic growth in the near future will come from emerging markets that are natively built on mobile and plagued by weak connectivity. As a result, PWA is strategically placed to be the key driving force for growth.

Furthermore, even if accessibility continues to be an issue in emerging markets, PWA responds to weak cellular networks beautifully!

That’s why companies in emerging markets like India have jumped on the PWA wagon. For example, Flipkart which is India’s largest e-commerce platform came out with a PWA called Flipkart Lite. This had a direct impact on their bottom line with a 70% increase in conversions.

With the added benefit of three times less data usage and 40% higher re-engagement rate, users also ended up spending much more time on the platform (as much as three times more!).

So what does all this tell us?

As far as the emerging markets are concerned, we are probably done with native app development. I mean, why wouldn’t you leverage PWA when it comes with such a wide range of advantages?

Especially for eCommerce, it’s a marriage made in heaven as it can help better serve customers in emerging markets. While I have already listed some advantages of PWAs, I am far from done!

Here are some more advantages to consider:

Short development lead time

As you only need to develop one platform-agnostic version of the app, it can be quickly accessed by end users regardless of the device or operating system.

Quick and simple updates

As there aren’t any apps to download and update each time you make changes to your services, PWAs will keep everyone concurrently up to date. As a result, the end user can immediately benefit from the latest updates without having to download the app again:

  • Features
  • Functionality
  • Security updates

With the PWA approach, you can largely eliminate issues like software fragmentation that sometimes forces businesses to extend legacy support for older versions (or risk cutting off sections of the user base until an update is initiated).

Unified customer experience

As PWAs are platform agnostic, all end users or customers will have access to the same version of the app that will enable uniform user experiences. This can help maintain brand experiences across devices and ensure that you consistently deliver powerful optimized experiences to the end user-base.

All this, combined with its simplicity and ease of access, results in increased engagement that can have a direct impact on your bottom line.

Will PWAs replace native mobile apps any time soon?

As Google continues to try and push PWAs deeper into Android, you can be sure that PWAs are here to stay. It makes sense for us to go through a global shift and eliminate mobile app development altogether, but at Intersog, we don’t really see this happening.

While PWAs will be more widespread in the years to come, native apps still have an important role to play (at least in the first/Western world). I also don’t think the evolution of native apps will slow down anytime soon, so it will be interesting to see where we find ourselves in the years to come.

This is my opinion, what’s yours? Where do you stand on the whole PWA debate? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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IT Storyteller and Copywriter
Andrew's current undertaking is big data analytics and AI as well as digital design and branding. He is a contributor to various publications with the focus on emerging technology and digital marketing.