Traditionally, when you think of an organization’s online media presence you assume it means a website and a mobile app. But now there’s a third member in the party that can change the way we use our devices, and it’s called Progressive Web Apps.
A PWA is a mobile version of a site that acts exactly as an application on a device, but it does not require a trip to the app store. It’s not something you have to install or pay $1.99 for; it’s a website that recognizes it’s running on a mobile device. Some of its advantages include offline reading, automatically downloading an article, and notifications, so a company can reach out via push notifications without the reader having to install any applications.
The result is content publishing that is more efficient, agile and cost-effective, but more importantly, it is frictionless for the consumers.
Right now, users have to go to the app store and download apps, and their phone will periodically prompt to update them, but that all goes away with PWA. An article can send readers directly to a progressive web app and the device will prompt them to save it to their home screen, in effect installing the PWA.
The advantages to those companies are many. The code to the progressive web apps is shared heavily or even entirely with the code for the website itself, so they don’t need a major investment to hire an iOS development group and an Android development group. It’s all one single code base.
Put another way, Android has a ton of OS fragmentation and 10 years after its original launch there are many, many iOS devices. This creates major headaches for the mobile developer community who have to build native apps for multiple platforms, updating the native apps for multiple platforms and then testing the mobile apps on different hardware and screen sizes.
Meanwhile, PWAs can be updated instantly, since their back end is much like any website that runs on a web server. Changes can be made on the web server without needing app store approval and every PWA user receives the updated application. This means e-commerce can progress in real time; no waiting and no delay for purchases.
An easy sell
For agencies, this is a way to help their clients transition to true mobile support, without having to initially sell them on developing native mobile applications. For something as straightforward as reading content, it just doesn’t make sense to pay someone to develop a mobile application, when PWA and WordPress work so well together to render pages in the same browser that’s already running on the phone.
Media apps, which are relatively simple publishing tools, may eventually go away. You would be surprised how many of the publications you read now already provide PWAs for their readers. If you go to the Washington Post app right now, you will be prompted to save it to your home screen, and you’ll have the WaPo PWA on your device. It’s not the only one; more and more major publications are doing it.
DevMethods applied PWA to help Cox Media Group innovate in its digital properties dedicated to the enthusiastic college football fandom. The amount of traffic to the free sites is in the millions, with only advertising revenue supporting them.
We were called initially to work on the site for the Georgia Bulldogs, dawgnation.com and once PWA became more widely available, we added one to the site. We used Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages to get that content to fans’ phones as fast as possible with the least friction possible, including ad impressions, and consequently, readership exploded.
When reading on a mobile device, connection speeds can vary dramatically and sometimes, the experience is not very good. Thanks to Google’s AMP, sites can publish their content to Google, which caches it so articles publish and render with blazing speed from the AMP cache. Google has interfaced AMP with PWAs in such a way that makes transitioning users from a search result to a PWA is fast and seamless.
We later created another PWA for the Southeast Conference, seccountry.com and landof10.com for the Big 10 Conference teams. We even discussed creating a PWA for every single Division 1 college football team and may yet expand to the Atlantic Coast Conference teams. It’s very easy to create large numbers of these PWAs, whereas building dozens of traditional mobile applications would have been prohibitive, and the Apple Store may have rejected them as redundant, anyway.
PWA may end up being the next evolution of the mobile environment, particularly for a certain flavor of media and publishing apps. There’s really no advantage anymore to having a traditional app over a progressive web app for something like reading news. We’re unlikely to see a Huffington Post or Drudge Report native mobile application in the near future. ComScore’s The 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report found it’s hard to get most consumers to try new apps; half don’t download any on an average month. Meanwhile, they’re deleting unused apps to declutter their phones and free up memory.
Twitter, Flipboard and many other platforms have now published PWA versions, so adoption keeps ramping up. Apple had lagged Android in applying PWAs, but this is changing with the iOS 11.3 release. So progressive web apps are not going away, while traditional media apps could end up as yesterday’s news.