How Progressive Web Apps Benefit Your Ability to Improve Your Business
Developers and business decision makers alike are trying to determine what Progressive Web Application benefits are.
I have listed and described a series of some of the more important PWA benefits in this article.
The main takeaway you should realize is progressive web applications are not a magic bullet to online success, they are an approach that will improve your online presence and give you the tools and channels to engage your audiences.
The thing about progressive web apps is there is so much more to the approach than just adding a web manifest file, registering a service worker and using HTTPS. It is about creating a great online experience.
The web has come a long way, especially in the past decade. Today the web platform features parity with native application capabilities, just without the app store hassles so many businesses complain about.
Instead of outsourcing your success to Apple, Google or Microsoft a progressive web application puts you in charge of your ability to reach your audience, reengage them and improve your business processes.
It all starts with that first step. It is a chance for you to take a journey to what the web should be and is, if you take advantage of the PWA benefits available to you today.
The primary reason Google, Microsoft and other companies are pushing progressive web applications is to encourage businesses to create better mobile experiences.
Because most online interactions are on mobile devices and have been for most of this decade.
The problem is, even though mobile-first responsive design has been a common approach for years, most websites still struggle to provide a good mobile-first experience.
It is one thing to throw a few CSS media queries in your stylesheets and render your content on a small screen, it is another to create an app-like experience.
This is where you take advantage of hardware integration, load fast, work offline and make their experience optimal on the device they load your site.
Having a PWA means having a better class website, not just a website, but a real tool to improve your business and make visitors want to return.
Behave Like Native Apps
Apps were cool, I mean they have better user experiences right?
Not so much. A well built website can look, behave and feel just like a native application.
The web has added many platform features like push notifications to allow the web to compete feature for feature with native counterparts.
No Store Required
The web does not need, nor has it ever needed a store for distribution and discovery.
The web does have search engines like Google, Bing and Yandex to make discovery easier. The web also has links, which means you can find the next page in your journey by clicking a link on the page you are currently visiting.
Stores make discovery and distribution difficult. There are guidelines, restrictions and delays when you need to publish an update.
If you are selling digital goods through your app, the store takes a 30% cut before you even get to income taxes.
The web has always been monetized, this is how Amazon started way back in 1994. Today it is even easier to get paid. Modern platform features like the Payments API reduce friction, especially on mobile devices for consumers to give you money.
And they can do it without going through the hassle of downloading your app from a store. Any visitor to your site can be your customer without all those extra steps.
Much Cheaper to Develop, Deploy, Promote and Maintain than Native Apps
Native apps are expensive, especially the ones Apple allow to stay in the store.
Even common applications cost 100s of thousands of dollars to create, not to mention maintain.
Here is the funny thing...most apps are just websites.
If you review the app store inventories and examine how different apps are built the majority of them are hybrid. This means they are built using websites and are wrapped in a native shell.
Personally I have never understood this for the average app. Unless you have a dependency on a specific platform feature there is little reason to build and deploy an app, especially if your strategy is to create a hybrid application.
I am not going to lie, web development can be expensive. It always depends on how large and complex your application requirements are.
While most native apps costs $25000-100,000 to develop, a PWA can cost half or less than the corresponding native option.
Who needs a network?
Not a well designed progressive web application.
Service workers are the web platform technology that really give them the edge to compete with native apps. They run as a background process and much include URL caching capabilities.
This does not mean you can 'cache' your entire website on every visitor's phone. Can you imagine if a site like Amazon did that!
Smaller sites can be cached as soon as a visitor first loads a page. This is what I have done with our arcade since they are small applications.
I also cache everything if a site has 10 pages or less. The extra HTML and images being downloaded typically do not require much space and can really improve the experience.
But as with anything in development the actual caching strategy can vary, even for smaller sites.
This is why you need an offline strategy. How will you handle requests when the network is unavailable?
Beyond your normal content and supporting assets you probably want an offline experience. This could be a dedicated offline page, sort of the way most sites have a 404 status page. You may also want a common offline image for placeholder or change the site's color theme.
Flipkart is my favorite example. When the network is unavailable they greyscale the site to provide an instant visual feedback mechanism to the customer.
The important takeaway, is your site is now instantly available even when your customer is in the middle of a desert!
If you think the web is limited to just text and images you are missing out.
For a while now the web has offered great hardware integration. This includes some of the following features
- Real-Time Camera
- Data Storage
- Biometric Authentication
- Motion Sensors
- Native Push Notifications
These are just a few of the modern APIs you can build into your web applications.
Today there is not a whole lot that separates what a website can do and what a native application can do.
The web is just easier and cheaper to build and deploy.
Improved Page Speed
When you upgrade to a PWA you tend to give your website a complete overhaul. This means not only do you get the benefits of service worker caching you can eliminate scare tissue that is slowing your site down
The goal is to be interactive within 3 seconds on every device and network type. Over time all applications slow down as features are clamped on without caring for the affect on user experience and speed.
By upgrading to best practices you can make your website a speed demon, giving you a clear advantage over your competition. Plus when the visitor returns your cached assets avoid network latencies, improving your overall time to first byte, thus making your pages load faster.
Cached Assets Reduce Server Load & Less Data Requirements
Those cached assets on the visitor's device mean those requests do not hit your server. This means you can reduce your need for server capacity, reduce your bandwidth costs and reduce your visitor's need to consume their data plan.
The key here, is the fastest network request is the one never made.
But you still need to determine what should be cached, how long it should be cached and how it should be invalidated. This is why having an experienced service worker developer on your team means you can craft an optimized caching strategy.
Require Less Disk Space than Native Apps
Native apps are fat. They take up 100s of MB of valuable space on smartphones. No one likes having their hard drives consumed by apps they rarely use.
This is a common reason why consumers remove apps just as fast as they install them. They need diskspace for videos, photos, podcasts and other fun stuff.
Well designed websites are small. Not counting images or possibly videos used by a site, they can easily be under 100kb.
I mentioned images being large. This does not need to be the case either. You can optimize your image file size and use responsive images.
Responsive images are a way of telling the browser what image versions are available. Your goal is to have an array of image options stating with thumbnails up to large screen versions. This means a phone won't download a 2000 pixel wide image to render on a 400 pixel or less wide screen.
Plus your customer's will appreciate you not eating their hard drive. Maybe they will take photos of your products and post them on social media now they have more disk space!
Instant Application Update Deployments
If you have not read my Spotify vs Apple article yet, take a gander over there after you finish this article.
Spotify has made multiple claims against Apple's AppStore policies. A key point they make is Apple blocking updates to their app.
They are not alone. Just about every company I have ever talked to about mobile apps has reported similar experiences with Apple, Google and Microsoft.
I won’t get into the details here, but it is a problem.
Even if your update is accepted you will eventually deploy an update. This process can take weeks, even if you have a critical bug you need to deploy a fix.
When you update your website it is just that, updated for everyone.
Ship a bug??
No problem fix and deploy and everyone visiting gets an update.
Some large websites, like GitHub deploy updates as often as 1500 times a day. Try that with a native app, it wont happen. You would be lucky to get 15 updates in a year.
Improve Business Bottom Line
Many companies continue to report improved key performance indicators, like sales and repeat visits.
Be sure to visit our Progressive Web Application Examples page for case study details about different businesses and their experiences with PWAs.
Some of the common benefits are increased sales, reduced overhead and higher engagement rates. Engagement is a key factor because it tends to measure repeat visits, which means more visitors move through sales funnels.
Wrapping it Up
Now that you know some of the key Progressive Web Application benefits I imagine you can see how they can fit into your overall business strategy.
Even if you don't need access to the device's gyroscope your web presence can become a super hero to grow your business or engage customers more often.
Remember being a PWA is not a sprint, it is a journey. Start simple and start adding new and improved features to your site today. Start by upgrading to HTTPS and adding a simple manifest file. Any site can do those two items on the first day.
Even though I have been utilizing progressive web application techniques and philosophies for over a decade I am still adding newer capabilities to our sites. So start your journey today!.