You don’t need an app the way you used to. Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) are growing as an option to the native Android or iOS code of the past decade. Here’s a nice primer on the difference.
by Victoria Collins in Forbes on April 8, 2019
You’re a startup working on a great app idea, you may be lucky enough to have someone technical on your team but perhaps not. Perhaps you’re a company with an online or offline service that wants to get in the pockets of your customers. You’ve read some articles on how to create your app, and you’ve outlined some ideas, but what next. This article focuses on the concrete step of what digital product you want to build, which can be particularly complex for someone without any technical experience.
When you want to build an app, you should forget that you want to build an app and focus on the fact that you want to build a solution to your customer’s problems. If that solution is a digital one, there are several options. Here’s a brief outline of some mobile-friendly options to help you choose the right one for your clients and your business and at least challenge the reflex to build a native app.
Understanding what ‘app’ means
The first thing you need to do is understand what the word app can mean. There are two main ways to build a digital product for mobile: native apps and web apps (web applications). Native apps are digital products that work on the operating system of your mobile phone and can use your phones features, a bit like an in-house employee who has the keys to all the doors. Web apps are digital products that work through the internet browser of your mobile phone which can use some features of your phone. They’re like external workers you hire in and have the keys to some doors, can still provide a great service and potentially work for you full-time if you wish.
Native apps are coded with a different code for each operating system. This means if you want to build a native app that works on Apple Phones and Android phones, you’ll need to build it twice with different codes. A web-app is built once, with one set of coding and works on all mobile phones (as well as on desktops). To make things simple, I’ll also make a distinction between website and web app. A website is informational, and a web app is interactive.
Native apps: the pros and cons
Once you’ve downloaded a native app, it’s a more autonomous solution. They offer a user experience that’s speedy, works offline and looks good. A native app can access all the features on your phone such as the camera, the contact list, GPS and Bluetooth making the best use of what your phone has to offer.
On the other hand, however, native apps are time-consuming and costly to develop. They are also less flexible and have high maintenance costs. They have lengthy download times and need frequent upgrades which can be frustrating for users. Furthermore, you can’t use search engines or web-based links to bring users directly to the app in the app store. This means there are more barriers to get users to download the app and start using it. Examples are all around you such as Facebook, Instagram and Monzo.
Web apps: the pros and cons
Web apps, on the other hand, are cheaper to develop, more flexible and have lower maintenance costs. They can have faster download times and are very easy to update. You also don’t need the app store to get downloaded.
The downsides of web apps are that they work through the web browser and do not have the same access to all the features on the phone. The user experience is not always optimized. As web apps evolve, however, the introduction of progressive web apps (PWAs) brings web apps ever closer to native apps. PWAs can be added as a shortcut on your phone, which looks like a native app shortcut, and also work offline. They also have the added advantage of functioning on a desktop as well as mobile. What’s more Android now allows PWAs to be added to the Play Store.
Mike James Liv, who created the startup Mive Media which focused on progressive web apps, explains the core difference between Web apps and progressive web apps. He highlights that they work on the same technology but that PWAs use the latest capabilities of modern web browsers to provide a better mobile web experience.
PWAs were championed by Google as early as 2015 and finally accepted by Microsoft and Apple in 2018, so they can now be used on Apple and Microsoft devices. Various case studies are showing the increasing potential of PWAs. Ola, the leading cab aggregator in India, implemented a PWA which was 300X smaller than their Android App and 500X smaller than their iOS app. This resulted in a 68% increase in mobile traffic in Tier two and three cities (cities with populations of 20,000 to 90,000). Lancôme looked to PWA technology when they saw that despite getting more traffic on mobile, their conversion rate was only 15% on mobile, compared to 38% on desktop. In 2017 conversion rates increased by 17% on their PWA. Bounce rates have been down by 35% Year-on-Year and the average order up 11%, and as a result, they’ve seen a 36% life in mobile revenue.
Detach yourself from the outcome and choose the best solution for you
This article is not a comprehensive guide to which solution to take but aims to challenge the reflex to build a native app. Take a step back and realize that there are several ways of building a digital product that’s good for your client and your business. Other options not covered may include solutions such as Facebook add-ins, chatbots or a simpler website to test your idea. It may depend on your company stage, your ambitions as well as your customers but take a step back, focus on the problem and take a moment to analyze the solutions before jumping into creating an app if you don’t have to. There is possibly a better solution out there.
Victoria Collins is the founder of tech start-up LingUpp, which harnesses technology to aid face-to-face language learning. As someone who didn’t previously work in tech, she uses her column to help others start and grow a tech company regardless of their background.