Progressive Web Apps: Do They Change Anything?
Native apps are dead; progressive apps are about to take over. Or, at least, so is the narrative ever since Google introduced it at the 2015 Chrome Developer Summit.
You’ve surely heard a thing or two about progressive web apps (PWA’s) over the last several months. There’s been a lot of talk about it and Google has pushed it very hard.
But is it truly a game-changer, or just another Google Glass? If you have one, how can you ensure that it ranks?
PWA’s: What are They?
On its developer pages, Google provides a great description, so it’s not necessary to go into details already covered by many other blogs. In short, PWA’s are web apps with most of the features of native apps.
Now when browsing the web on your phone, it will only take one tap to get the app on your home screen. You’ll get the entire app experience including push notifications, offline access, look and feel of an app, and so on.
The End of the Native App?
A couple of years ago, the media and tech bloggers declared that, “the web is dead.” Today, it’s the other way around; native apps are doomed, PWA’s are the future.
One thing we know for sure is that mobile finally took over the desktop. A comScore report shows that 65% of online media time comes from the Mobile and apps dominate that usage.
While Google enjoyed the online monopoly on the desktop, in the mobile world, it competes with Apple and PWA’s are a major move to bringing users back to the web, where Google enjoys its monopoly and has access to data.
In a Medium post, Eric Elliott outlines why native apps are doomed and PWA’s are the future. He makes some excellent points. The main reason PWA’s will take over is the install friction. The process to install an app takes about five steps and developers lose over 20% of users throughout the process.
While the App Store enjoys large revenues, Android has about 86% of the world’s smartphone users. That should attract developers towards PWA’s.
The main benefit is that all it takes in a PWA is one tap to get the app icon on your home screen. In Android, at least. Obviously, there would be much more long term friction if you had to access, say Uber, through a browser every time.
In other words, for PWA’s to succeed on iOS, Apple would need to add support for that and voluntarily give up its multi-billion dollar revenues, which is not going to happen.
Another argument to look at is that while PWA’s have less friction when it comes to installs, in the long-term, it’s the retention that matters.
But if you look at it from the app usage point of view, it’s very limited in space. Most of us use about 10-15 apps on a regular basis. App Stores are the one percent economy. One percent of publishers control 94% of revenues.
In other words, it’s the apps that provide the most value that win. In my opinion, when the next Uber enters the app market, you will eventually have it whatever the friction, because the value proposition is a no brainer.
As PWA’s won’t make a difference in the way we use apps, building a great web app with high market demand remains the ultimate competitive advantage.
Will PWA’s Change Anything?
To get to the point, PWA’s probably won’t change the app market’s landscape. Users care about hardware and apps available; developers care about revenues and the number of users on each of the platforms.
While the elimination of friction will lead to better adoption, no matter how many apps you eventually install, you’ll still end up using about 10-15 on a regular basis. App markets will remain the one percent economy.
Likewise, to end up with a home screen cluttered with way too many apps can lead to the opposite effect – lower retention as a result of a new kind of friction that comes with finding and navigating through an overcrowded screen.
Back to SEO
So What Will PWA’s Change? In short, discoverability. As the app discovery shifts from Google Play back to the web, Android developers can enjoy the benefits of traditional SEO.
Google has already released a guide on how get them indexed and it’s not complicated.
Many websites, especially those with actively updated content, can benefit a lot too. With access to app features such as push notifications, they can boost conversions and their revenues.
To sum it up, PWA’s won’t dramatically change the dynamics of the app market, but they may change the mobile browsing experience and will present an interesting new development for the SEO industry.