Not so long ago, the digital marketplace offered a simple rule: Whatever you needed, there was an app for that.
The rise of tablets and smartphones spurred a gold rush of brands racing toward the possibilities of mobile apps. Compared with the immersive potential of a native app, browser windows offered a limited canvas. Designers were constrained by needing to include menus, navigation windows, and web technology. If you wanted a truly feature-rich experience for mobile users, your brand needed to stake its claim with an app.
However, technology has evolved. Apps are still valuable, but they’re also not necessarily the only way to create a rich user experience. Android and Apple apps require special programming, and relying on a virtual storefront to host your app introduces separate challenges. Now, you're able to sidestep the app store and create a similar experience with a progressive web application (PWA).
Progressive web apps offer a new frontier for entertainment brands that need to create an eye-catching, feature-rich digital experience without the development costs associated with serving multiple mobile platforms. Plus, by eliminating the hurdles to produce standalone apps that could get lost in a crowded digital storefront, progressive web apps transform web browsers into goldmines of their own.
Progressive web apps redefine the browser-based experience
More than 10 years after the "there’s an app for that" era, web browsers offer more potential for designers and developers. Using modern APIs, progressive web apps allow browsers to reach far beyond their conventional capabilities.
Advancements like WebAsssembly allow designers and developers to bring the capabilities of other programming languages to any browser window. Long the operator of one of the most popular native apps, Starbucks now offers an equally effective virtual experience through a progressive web app. From ordering drinks, beans, and breakfast to promoting the company’s rewards program, the brand’s site provides a path toward the same resources provided from the company’s app.
Unless your brand needs user permissions like near-field communication (NFC) to support e-wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, progressive web apps can deliver the same benefits. Plus, as the industry moves to protect user privacy, a native app’s ability to access personal details such as location is becoming less viable.
In short, a modern, progressive web app fulfills many of the same roles as native app. But more importantly, a progressive web app can also eliminate longtime barriers associated with the native apps experience.
App stores introduce more restrictions for brands
As native apps became the must-have accessory, every brand angled for position on the virtual storefronts operated by Apple and Google. Acquire enough user reviews or, better yet, an award or other recognition from the store itself, and your app rises above the competition to secure prime, high-visibility real estate.
However, relying on a virtual storefront to host and manage your app introduces complications as well. In a native app, every purchase your user makes is routed back through the store before coming to your brand. In a progressive web app, you can eliminate the gatekeeper and retain control of the full experience.
Progressive web apps offer ready access for your users
The technological needs of native apps can introduce additional friction in the mobile experience as well. As storage has grown more precious, both Android and Apple have streamlined a user’s ability to offload unused apps. Your customer may be prepared to make a purchase, but that transaction stalls if they need to reinstall the app.
If you’re marketing to a youth audience, the gatekeeper of the native app’s storefront introduces different challenges. Most kids have been trained not to make new purchases when handed their parents' mobile or tablet — with good reason.
Downloading any native app to a device requires a fingerprint, password, or additional authentication to proceed. Even if your native app is free to download, it may as well be unavailable if your user can’t access it from the store.
By contrast, a progressive web app can be activated on a browser window safely and seamlessly. Progressive web apps function much like an enhanced bookmark. Once "installed," they can provide enhanced caching features so they will work offline and provide a richer experience by programmatically removing the browser’s toolbars, navigation and framework (or its "chrome") during use.
Progressive web apps ease strain on development resources
Native apps not only require specific expertise to create, they also demand a duplication of effort. To build an app for the Apple and Android ecosystem along with a web browser, you need to develop each app independently. Not only does this result in increased costs, it also complicates launch dates and potentially fragments feature sets as each app is created in a vacuum.
Focusing your efforts on a progressive web app allows you to focus on creating one tool for both your web and mobile users. Consequently, you simplify design and development by uniting your code base and software development lifecycle (SDLC) into a single stream. Design and development also proceed that much faster because you no longer need to manage the creation of apps on multiple platforms, which means you can nail down effective user flows through UX testing that much faster.
Plus, once a native app exists within the Apple or Android ecosystem, your brand is subject to the whims of each platform’s software updates. To remain current and fully functional, you have to manage each app’s maintenance and upkeep. With a progressive web app, you only need to ensure one code base remains compatible for each browser.
Do you really need a native app?
As long as there are smart phones and tablets, native apps will remain a viable channel. Many brands will continue offering apps to provide a fresh experience to their audience. But progressive web apps have grown more sophisticated. Now, they provide a viable option for creating the same look of a native app without some of the complications.
If your brand is targeting a young audience, a native app introduces friction points between your product and its users. As long as your app doesn’t need to access a device’s accelerometer, accept payments, or access user data, a progressive web app provides a vital alternative.
In one recent project, We The Collective worked with a gaming client that needed a project allowing users to access rewards on Roblox. Offering animated interfaces toward specific challenges on tablets and mobile devices, Camp Bonkers looks and behaves like a native app. But it's accessible on any web browser. As a result, the company can connect with its users in a way that’s seamless, simple, and engaging.
If you’re thinking of promoting one of your products with a feature-rich digital experience but are unsure of the right direction, we should talk. There may not actually be an app for that—but there may be something better.