Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Progressive Web App Recap

There’s a lot to be said for Progressive Web Apps. Major brands are adopting them (and seeing amazing results), all the big tech players are on board, and consumers are starting to expect a seamless mobile experience that, quite frankly, only PWAs can guarantee. They’re lightning fast, load reliably no matter the service situation, and integrate those native features that you thought you could only get with an app store download. So with brands seriously considering PWAs for their 2019 marketing plans, I wanted to take a moment to talk to the state of PWAs–who’s supporting them, what brands are adopting them, and what more needs to be done.

Who’s Supporting Them
First of all–every major technical player is all-in on PWAs. Google, Microsoft, and Apple have all built support for the technical elements of PWAs into their software updates on desktop and mobile. Android and Google Pixel users are seeing some amazing benefits from PWAs–like integration to native phone hardware, prompts to install the PWA to their home screen, push notifications, and more. However, Apple is a little behind the 8 Ball on this one. While their iOS 11.3 update did come with support of background caching via a service worker, there are still quite a few functionality pieces that aren’t compatible with Apple devices (think: push notifications, access to native features like bluetooth, beacons, Touch ID, etc., access to in-app payment services, and more.) And, unlike Android devices, iPhones still don’t prompt you to add PWAs to your home screen, you have to manually do it through the “Save to Home Screen” command. But, there’s good news: PWAs still work on iPhones–don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. You can access them from the home screen, lose the browser search bar for an app-like interface, and use them offline. So, while Apple is slowly but surely getting on board with PWAs, there’s still a ways to go for iPhone users to have the same native experience that Android and Pixel users are getting today.

How Users Are Getting to Them
It’s probably the biggest follow-up question to the “no app store download” narrative–then how do users find and access it? First of all, PWAs are hosted on the mobile web, which means they can be accessed via any web browser on any device. While this definitely makes them more accessible, there’s still some debate over whether or not they should be included in some sort of “app store”, since–in some cases–they are mirroring or even replacing a brand’s native app. Major tech players noticed this common question and some–Microsoft’s Windows Store and the Google Play store–are taking action by allowing PWAs to be added to their stores. Appscope also built a PWA-only “app store” for easy discoverability. I totally get where we’re going with this app store trend, since users are used to going to an app store in order to access these native mobile experiences, but I do see this trend of PWAs in app stores fading out as users become more used to the fact that PWAs are discoverable with a quick Google search.

Who’s Adopting Them
Honestly…everybody. There are brands in nearly every industry that have already taken the dive into PWAs, with a few industries adopting them early and reaping the benefits. The retail, travel, social, CPG, entertainment, and food & beverage industries have already taken PWAs in stride, and tout some impressive results to prove the value in their investments. Pinterest’s PWA yielded a 103 percent increase in weekly active users and 800,000 weekly users launching the app from the home screen. Trivago saw 97 percent increase in conversions with their PWA. Alibaba’s PWA allowed for 76 percent higher conversions across all browsers. Different industries, same great results. And we’re bound to see a lot more adoption in the coming months.

We’ve seen a lot of progress in PWA support and adoption in the past year, and there’s still room for improvement! I’m personally hoping to see Apple pick up the pace with PWAs in 2019, and finally allow iPhone users to start taking advantage of this mobile tech. After all, Gartner predicts that by 2020, 50 percent of all consumer-facing apps will be replaced by PWAs. That prediction is well on its way to coming reality, and the sooner Apple can get on board, the better.