In a previous post, I argued that apps are not dying. That instead, they will evolve. This is already the case today with a saturated mobile app market.
In fact, there is almost an app for anything these days.
Chances are that no matter your idea, it’ s already been implemented.
This was not always the case though.
I remember the golden age for mobile, when the app business flourished. iOS and Android developers were highly in demand back then.
Nowadays however, the app industry is in agony. In fact, studies have shown that 80% of mobile time is spent in the user' s top 3 apps.
As usage is highly concentrated, it’ s a “winner take it all” situation.
Apps have become extremely competitive. Statistics suggest less than 1 in 10 000 apps to have ever been profitable.
It is extremely difficult to make a successful app nowadays. Most do not even get enough user attention.
You can spend all the time in the world to perfect features on your product, only to be shocked after you release it. Shocked, as you did not expect this underwhelming fact of the universe: not a single person is interested in trying your wonderful new app.
There are other obstacles as well in the app business. Apple for instance, charges 30% of your iOS app revenues, making it extremely difficult for developers to break even.
The same applies to Android Play Store, although Google, unlike Apple, does not require annual developer fees, but instead only charges a one-time developer fee.
Not to forget that apps are also expensive to make. The average native application takes about $140,000 and 4 months to build with full features on all platforms.
What is even more, the cost of client acquisition is also extremely high on mobile. Selio, for instance, found their user acquisition costs to be ten times cheaper for web when compared to their native apps.
The web has incredibly low friction and as a result, it ‘ s also cheaper to acquire users.
Why not just stick to the web then ? Why hasn’t the web been more disruptive ? I mean, aren’ t web apps cheaper overall ? Don’ t they require less in user acquisition costs ?
At least, Apple will not charge 30% of your revenues on the web. Also, user reach is much broader on the web than on mobile app stores.
There are, indeed, many benefits to web apps. Nevertheless, native applications are still attractive for many reasons.
On the one hand, native apps are more reliable than their web counterparts.
Most native applications provide offline access through means like caching, push sync and sensors.
That your app is written in native code also helps in performance, allowing fast start and loading times.
User experience is overall better on native apps. Things like push notifications facilitate user re-engagement. Home screen icons maintain visibility of your native app in your phone .
The web, on the one hand, offers much broader reach and less friction in customer acquisition, and is overall less costly.
Web apps also require less data storage and computing resources on the client device thanks to cloud computing. In addition, the web is safer and more respectful of user privacy.
Reach and acquisition are so important that it is difficult to undermine the potential of the web on mobile devices.
Chrome for instance, has more than a billion monthly users on mobile and is growing fast. Reach on mobile web today is at least 2.5 times that of native apps, allowing a wider audience.
A Comore study found the average mobile user to download 0 apps monthly. Google data on the other hand shows an average of 100 sites visited by a mobile web user in the same period. This makes an extremely compelling case for the web.
The question now is: how to fully leverage the potential of the web on mobile devices ? How to allow web apps more reliability, engagement, visibility, etc ?
Web apps need reliable performance, home icons, and fast loading as 40% of users bounce away from sites that take more than 4s to load. The longer the load time, the higher the bounce rate.
What if web apps did not always need to traverse the network ? What if they could use caching locally and intelligently ?
That’ s where Progressive Web Apps or PWAs come in. They are basically web apps optimized for mobile experience.
PWAs, like native apps, are fast to load. They also handle offline access through caching and push-sync. They are engaging and visible as home screen icons on mobile. Their re-engagements features also include push notifications. In a few words, PWAs present all the benefits of native apps.
However, unlike native apps, PWAs are web apps. Consequently, they leverage the reach potential of the web on mobile. They are basically, the best of both worlds brought to mobile.
Progressive Web Apps, PWAs
Google believes the era of native mobile is gone. That interactive web apps are the future. Their PWA solution is very efficient in leveraging the potential reach of the web to allow better web experience on mobile.
Google PWAs use Firebase. They also leverage service workers to enable reliable performance. Caching is handled with a cache API that does not only rely on browser caching. This means after the first visit, the application works really fast.
What about the first visit ?
The AMP project from the Google Search team provides reliably fast web components for first load, that are much faster to load and less data hungry than non AMP components.
Combining AMP for first fast load and service workers for subsequent loading makes PWAs very performant .
PWAs are also very reliable. They work offline and on flaky networks. Many other features make them extremely user-friendly. These include smooth animations, jank-free scrolling and seamless navigation.
They are very engaging with home screen icons from where they can be launched.
Why is this important ?
Technology has always been improving. Better versions of smartphones, more powerful than their predecessors are coming out all the time. However, these improvements are offset by the fact that apps are also becoming more and more complex, more and more resource intensive.
This is one of the reasons some users cannot understand that they still run out of phone resources even after upgrades to newer versions of devices. Many users have thus put a certain limit on the number of apps they download.
Mobile owners nowadays tend to stick to a certain few of their favorite apps and seem more skeptical of trying out new applications.
Consequently, there is less exposure for new and non established mobile apps.
PWAs however leverage the potential of the web to allow more reach with cheaper user conversion costs. Acquisition, conversion and reach make a good case for PWAs, which are also less resource intensive on the client device.
In brief, apps are saturated. PWAs are the new generation of promising mobile apps.
Software Engineer and Entrepreneur