Choosing the right technology for building your mobile application is critical. In this video, Troy and Andy discuss Progressive Web Apps and their strengths and weaknesses.

Video Transcription

Hi, I’m Troy, I’m the Founder & Managing Director of Increaseo, I’m here today with Andy Farrell, who is our Head of Digital Strategy and UX.

Mobile Application Development in Today’s Environment

Troy: We wanted to have a discussion about mobile applications and how they can operate in today’s environment. We have a lot of clients that have been asking us for our mobile technologies, and how we can use them, and what the barriers to entry are, and how we might move forward?


Andy: Yeah, it’s a great question. A lot of people do ask about mobile, and, you know, their assumptions around whether mobile makes sense. Sometimes they’re pretty well-founded in terms of what the challenges are.

Disadvantages of Native App Development

Andy: So there’s four big things that we’ve uncovered that are stopping people from taking advantage of native mobile technology.

1. High Cost

Andy: The first big thing is cost. The fact that you’ve actually got to develop an app for iOS, for Android, and you’ve still gotta have a solution that’s gonna work on your desktop.

So that’s a big obstacle.

2. Lack of Discoverability

Andy: Second thing is, native mobile apps are opaque in terms of whatever you put in them is not easily discovered. It’s not indexed by a search engines. You can’t easily link to it.

Troy: You can’t see the content inside of the app unless you’re in the app.

Andy: Exactly.

3. Difficulty in Onboarding Users

Andy: Third problem is getting people to onboard. Getting people to actually install your app is a big challenge. There’s quite a few steps, obviously, to installing an app. Sometimes people think twice. They might be reluctant because of the size of the app or the permissions the app is asking for when it first launches. And just getting somebody through all the hoops from, say, social media posts, through the app store, to the point where they’re actually installing can be really high friction.

So that’s a big drop-off point.

4. Difficulties in App Store Review Processes

Andy: The fourth thing is, as is the case with so many things these days, you’re constantly changing and updating it. And when you’re talking about updating a native app that’s on the app store, that means going back through that whole process all over again, which could mean you’re triggering the review process, by say Apple, and that can take time, and sometimes it’s a bit unpredictable.

Troy: Yeah, it might get rejected.

Andy: Exactly, right.

So, all these things combine to make mobile somewhat broken in terms of the typical needs of a company that’s trying to move quickly, and yet take advantage of the mobile platform. Which is why, you know, most people have opted for a responsive website.

Troy: It’s much more efficient, much cheaper.

Andy: But, not such a great experience. So and therein lies the problem.

Current State of the Mobile App Market

Andy: So mobile apps are great and we know everybody loves using them, and–

Troy: What sort of uptake do you have with mobile apps? How many people are using apps? How many apps do people engage with on an ongoing basis?

Andy: Your average user has about 35 apps installed on their phone. In terms of how many apps they’re actually using on a regular basis, though? That’s a whole different story. Often people have multiple apps installed from a particular category but they may actually only really be using
one of those frequently, and maybe, maybe a couple.

So again this is a little bit of a friction point, but, you know, people do love using apps. And, you know, the reasons for that are pretty obvious.

Advantages of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

Troy: So is there a way, then, that we can, sort of meet in the middle between a responsive website and a native app? Is there a middle ground? Is there any solution in place out there that can, I guess, have the best of both worlds?

Andy: Yeah, that’s a great question.

I think you’ve used the exact right term there, talking about this middle ground. There is a gap in the middle, definitely. And it’s the difference between the great experience you can have with a native mobile app versus the typical responsive website. Which is, it often feels good at first, but as you use it you start realising, well, it’s really just a website,

it doesn’t really behave, there’s limitations. So, it’s a bit of a mixed experience.

So, there is this gap in the middle, and that gap has been filled, which is really interesting, by a new technology called a Progressive Web App.

1. Utilisation of Existing Web Technologies

Andy: So, this is basically taking some of the technologies that we use to build responsive websites and also leveraging some new things that have come along, some new technologies that are available in the browser. And we’re able to now deliver an experience that starts to look a lot more like a native app, but is built using the same technologies we’ve been using to create websites.

2. Content Discoverability

Troy: So that would mean, then, you would do away with some of the limitations around that, because if it’s built with the same technology that websites, you’re then going to have content that’s discoverable, but living within an app.

Andy: Yeah, so PWAs have a number of really specific advantages over responsive websites. And the whole, the P in the PWA is progressive, the app progressively becomes more like a native app in terms of the experience. And so, if we look at, well, what is that experience? What specifically, does it solve?

The first thing is, unlike a native app, where we’ve got all those obstacles to getting people into the app, we can link directly to a PWA just like a website. I can now post on social media with a URL, and when people jump into that URL, they’re actually there in the app.

3. PWAs are Progressive

Andy: And so that means you can effectively use the app first and then decide to install it later. The second thing, is unlike a responsive website, it can be installed. And once you do that, once the icon appears on your device, it will then launch, and behave, and enjoy the same kind of status as a native app.

Troy: So, you can get things like push notifications directly to your app.

Andy: That’s right, and it works offline. It launches almost instantly, it’ll work offline, and the technology now has moved to the stage where the actual user experience, or the way the interface works, the kinds of transitions and effects that we can provide are as fluid as a native app. And, in fact, it’s almost indistinguishable for most people, that they’re not using a native app.

Troy: So, are there, are there many cases where this has been used in the wild already?

Andy: There’s a whole bunch. And it’s interesting who’s giving them a try.

4. Cost Savings with PWAs

Andy: I think one of the big advantages too is that, and the reason that people have gone down this road is now they only need to build one app and they can deliver a native-app-like experience to iOS, Android, and on the desktop, with one build.

Troy: So there’s a massive cost saving then, in the development of the technology, and ongoing maintenance?

Andy: So, the cost would be comparable with building a single native app for one platform, plus a little bit more. As opposed to the triple cost you’d typically face with building Android, iOS, and desktop. It’s still a complex app to build, but the end result basically solves three problems.

Progressive Web App Technologies

Troy: So what technologies does it typically involve, or is it wide and varied, as these progressive web apps are built?

Andy: So there’s a couple of new things that a progressive web app is taking advantage of.

1. Web App Manifest

Andy: One is a thing called a manifest, and this basically tells the device how that app will behave when it’s installed and when it launches. It tells us things like the icon, the splash screen, the name, and so on. So that is what makes the app installable.

2. Service Worker

Andy: The second really exciting thing is a thing called a service worker. And this is basically something that can run behind the scenes even when the app’s not being used, and do things. And can also manage things like caching. Which is where we start to get some of the offline capabilities from.

Troy: And performance and speed, et cetera.

Andy: Yeah, so, you know, unlike the responsive web app where that way you typically need to be connected to a server to do anything, with the help of a service worker, once you’ve been to the app once the subsequent experience is really super fast. And we can do updates in the background, so the user is not really aware of the fact that we’re fetching fresh content at some point, it just happens kind of behind the scenes.

So that’s part of how we create a great experience.

Progressive Web App (PWA) Examples

Andy: In terms of your question who is using them, so, the kinds of users that we’re typically seeing is where an organisation might already have a native app, and they’ve got a responsive web alternative, that’s not a great experience, and they’re trying to figure out how to get more traction in that space, or maybe, how to onboard people into their native app. Or in some cases, perhaps, replacing the responsive website is providing everything that they need in terms of experience.

So, some really good examples, Twitter have taken their website, their responsive website, and turned it into a progressive web app. Pinterest, another big one. AliExpress, their shopping app.

Progressive Web App Performance Advantages

Troy: Is there a performance increase that we’re seeing from people who are moving from a responsive website, into a progressive web app, I guess, not only just performance as far as speed, but, are we seeing an increase in conversion metrics around increase in sales, increasing number of signups, and newsletters, that kind of thing?

Andy: Yeah, we have, both in terms of audience engagement, and some of those other metrics, like sales and click-throughs, and so on. What we’re seeing is there’s a reported uplift across the board, so. A few specific numbers.

With AliExpress they saw a 74% increase in the amount of time people were actually spending on the shop. Twice as many pages being visited overall. And 104% increase in conversions, which is huge.

Troy: Massive increase to the bottom line.

Andy: Yeah, that’s a massive increase. Forbes is another great example. So, they had a 43% increase in the number of user sessions. 100% increase in engagement across the board. Six times more articles actually looked at during the user experiences.

Troy: Wow.

Andy: Similarly with Pinterest, 60% increase in user engagement, 44% increase in ad revenues. So, you know, these are pretty compelling numbers.

I think it’s pretty fair to say that the experience is a big enough improvement that it really is no longer comparable with just having a responsive website. This is really going to the next level. and it’s much more similar to having a native app in terms of the increasing engagement you get. And much lower investment.

Are PWAs for Everyone?

Troy: Yeah, okay, so we’ve got some big businesses starting to use this technology, does it make sense for everyone? Or is it a really limited use case of companies that might want to use this technology?

Andy: Yeah, look, that’s a good point. It doesn’t make sense for everybody. the kinds of people that see the most benefit, the sorts of businesses that are pursuing this are ones where they reengage with their customers frequently. So, where there’s just a one-off visit, and sale of some kind, or it’s a single service that you’re offering and once they use it, that’s it, it doesn’t make so much sense. But if you have an audience that are reengaging with your brand, they’re coming back to reorder products, or there’s a service that perhaps they use from time to time, or perhaps there’s information that they need to view frequently. It makes a lot of sense. ‘Cause you can provide a way better, way more fluid experience that’s much more engaging and much more enjoyable to use.

Troy: Yeah, and you have a wide, multiple ways to get them back into, engaged with your website, app.

Andy: Yeah, and the fact that integrates with your overall digital marketing much more tightly, that’s probably the most compelling.

Troy: So you could send an email marketing campaign which draws someone to a specific page within your app. Which you can’t do within a native app.

Andy: That’s right, yup.

Troy: Okay, thank you.

Andy: You’re welcome.