The digital publishing industry nowadays is faced with a variety of challenges, from content creation to user engagement (especially on mobile), distribution and monetization.
Lately, we’ve seen initiatives meant to improve users’ experience on the mobile web – Google Accelerated Mobile Pages and Facebook Instant Articles are already getting a lot of attention from publishers.
But there’s a new kid on the block! We’re especially excited about it since, here at Appticles, we’ve been advocating for a long time that the mobile web has the potential to go beyond responsive web design, that mobile means more than just screen-size and we’re thrilled to see a growing interest for “progressive web apps”.
Throughout this article we’re exploring the opportunities and benefits that progressive web apps can bring to the digital publishing industry, from bloggers to newspapers, magazines or eBook publishers.
What are Progressive Web Apps?
Google’s own definition:
A Progressive Web App uses modern web capabilities to deliver an app-like user experience. They’re reliable, fast, and engaging” or “Progressive Web Applications take advantage of new technologies to bring the best of mobile sites and native applications to users.
This is where we usually get the following question: “How do my readers install it?”
Well, that’s the thing: progressive web apps are not App Store residents! What we’re actually dealing with here are apps that run directly in the browser, without any App Stores being involved in the process.
As Ada Rose Edwards (Developer Advocate for Samsung and previously a member of FT Labs) explains:
I would argue that being in an app store has no major advantage because it has been shown that if you are not in the top 0.1% of apps in the app store, you are not getting significant benefit from being there.
Following Ada’s line of thought, it’s easy to see how a lot of publishers end up with tens of thousands of dollars invested, months spent in developing and promoting the application, for a staggering 1% converted into mobile app users from their already existing Web traffic (users tend to find apps by first finding your website). You can read more about the math behind it here.
However, in case of progressive web apps users are already at their destination.
“One of the strengths of a progressive web app is that it enables publishers to improve engagement by reducing the number of clicks required to re-engage the user between landing on a website and engaging with the app.” according to Ada.
In fact, progressive web apps are not new. Mobile browsers have had the ability to provide a app-like experience since 2011 when Financial Times notoriously removed their native application from iTunes and launched a web app (HTML5) alternative. The entire publishing industry saw this move as straight heresy, but FT actually proved that it is possible to succeed outside the App Store with more than 2 million users in just 10 months after their shift. More on their story here.
Some of the key features of progressive web apps are:
- Apps load nearly instantly and are reliable, no matter what kind of network connection your user is on
- Web app install banners give users the ability to quickly and seamlessly add your web app to their home screen, making it easy to launch and return to your app
- Web push notifications makes it easy to re-engage with users by showing relevant, timely, and contextual notifications, even when the browser is closed
- Smooth animations, scrolling, and navigations keep the experience silky smooth
- Secured via HTTPS
- You’ve got to actually build it, and it’s new technology so there’s both a steep-ish learning curve and the potential for breaking changes as the spec evolves
- Not currently broadly supported, although with Android being so broadly adopted now and iOS losing market share every day, that’s less of an issue than it would have been historically
It all sounds pretty enticing and it makes you wonder: “Why now?”
According to Christian Heilmann, Senior Program Manager Developer Experience and Evangelism at Microsoft, the house of cards called “App Stores” is tumbling:
App download numbers are abysmally low and the usage of mobiles is in chat clients, OS services and social networks. The closed nature of marketplaces works heavily against random discovery. There is a thriving market of fake reviews, upvotes, offline advertising and keyword padding that makes the web SEO world of the last decade look much less of the cesspool we remember. End users are getting tired of having to install and uninstall apps and continuously get prompts to upgrade them. This is a great time to break into this model. Something has to change.
“The Web reaches more audience than any other platform in both ends: users and authors. PWA technologies put web pages (not only Web Apps) at the same level as most of native applications regarding to platform capabilities. And moreover PWA comes with a renewed user-centric mindset encouraging developers to deliver content, load instantly and be network independent. This new philosophy puts the effort in not wasting the priceless user time.”
But in the other hand, Salvador expressed his concerns about the risk of missing the progressive and web parts of Progressive Web Apps:
I would love to read more about how real companies are integrating PWA techs inside their running services.
He goes on to explaining that Service Workers are a game changer and they were ready by early 2015 in Chrome 40.
“For the first time in history, there is a reliable standard API to implement network independent experiences in the Web. With Service Workers we have been able to bring one of the most successful mobile UX pattern to the Open Web. And it is not only the technology aspect: browser vendors have put resources and effort into promoting Progressive Web Apps; not only leveraging developer relationships but working directly with Internet companies to test these technologies and gather results in order to demonstrate effectiveness.”
Benefits of the Progressive Web App Strategy
Owen Campbell-Moore, Product Manager at Google, invites you to think about interaction with a product as going through two distinct phases:
- New or low engagement users that don’t know much about your product, but are hopefully willing to try it and engage a little
- Engaged and convinced users that have decided they like your product and are willing to commit to using it more often
The most conventional strategy for publishers is to build both web and app versions, allowing them to reach large groups of users with your product and then once some users are convinced upsell them to your app, where they will be engaged and retained.
This is the strategy used by companies such as GrubHub, Twitter, LinkedIn and others. However, the main problem with the conventional web + app strategy is that it requires you to build the product three times: iOS, Android and web.
However, with a Progressive Web App strategy, the product can reach the large number of new or low engagement users with their Progressive Web App, and then offer engaged or convinced users to install it or enable push notifications, driving the engagement benefit of a native app but with the same single platform.
According to Owen, this strategy has a number of benefits:
- You can address users in both phases across all three platforms (Desktop, iOS and Android) with one fewer implementation of your product rather (as the Progressive Web App can take the place of the Android native app)
- Investments in the Progressive Web App now pay off across all three platforms. For example, when AliExpress built a Progressive Web App they saw an 82% increase in conversion rates on iOS compared to their old mobile web site
- Progressive Web Apps consume 92% less data compared to a native app, allowing them to better address users with slower phones or limited storage
- Progressive Web Apps allow engineering teams to maintain a high development velocity thanks to fast deploys and easy experimentation on the web compared to app stores
It’s clear that we’re dealing with a green field for Progressive Web Apps. Remember, we don’t love apps because they’re in an App Store, we love them in spite of that! Do your homework when planning your mobile strategy! Don’t just copy what the big guys are doing. Talk to your users, experiment and adapt. The answer might be just around the corner.