Designing for the Future: Progressive Web Apps Take on Native Apps

Native apps on Android have dominated the market for years, but there's a new kid on the block now. Progressive Web Apps (PWA) have started to gain popularity, allowing web designers to muscle in on this part of the smartphone market. Let's take a closer look at PWAs and what they mean for the future.

PWAs for Android

When Google added the 'Add to Homescreen' feature in 2017, PWAs started offering Android users an alternative to native apps. It's not an entirely new feature in the smartphone industry, but for loyal Android users it's been a welcome addition to the platform. Users have more choice, and the popularity of PWAs suggests that the public like to have that kind of control.

What makes PWAs great is that when they're designed well, they're almost indistinguishable from native apps. They're fast, responsive, and focused, and can be added in an instant. This gives them an obvious advantage over native apps that need to be downloaded from the Google Play Store. Users appreciate the experience of PWAs, and that's what's important for designers to consider.

The Lowdown on PWAs

For the uninitiated, PWAs are, basically, websites that look and are used like native applications. Android users can launch them in the same way they launch native apps. Market research has shown that ultimately users don't much care whether the app is native or a PWA as long as it's easy to use and gives a positive experience.Websites such as forbes.com and twitter.com have had huge success with PWAs. Forbes has reported that after launching their PWA, user engagement has more than doubled. The Twitter Lite PWA has been equally successful. Twitter claims that up to 250,000 daily users are launching the web app from their home screen.The Add to Homescreen feature on Android smartphones gives end users an immediate app-like experience. Taking out the process of opening a web browser and typing in a URL means that users have instant access to content. For marketing purposes, this fulfills the need to simplify processes and increase conversions.

Progressive Web Apps and Designers

Web designers have good reason to be excited about the soaring increase in PWA usage. There are a lot of benefits both for business owners and the web designers that they employ. Let's take a look at some of the things web designers should be considering about PWAs for the future.

Add to Homescreen is Game-Changing

Some developers view PWAs as the future for smartphones, and web designers are starting to recognize the importance of utilising the Add to Homescreen feature. According to Google's Lighthouse checklist, when PWAs use this feature, they score better and rank higher. In a competitive market, increasing engagement and conversion is crucial. PWAs with Add to Homescreen capabilities achieve this - with some reporting up to a 70% increase in conversions.

The reasons for this increase in engagement is rooted in the simplicity of PWAs. End users are busy, and over the last fifty years, attention spans have dramatically reduced. Allowing users both the app-like experience and immediate access to content is essential. The age-old KISS - keep it simple, stupid - principle is what PWAs are all about.

Making the Most of PWA Features

User experience is the key to success in any aspect of marketing and design. This is no different for PWAs. Make it a good experience, and users will return or purchase. A bad experience makes for an unhappy user. So, what makes for a good user experience?

Speed of Navigation

Time is money in the world today, so users want to be able to navigate the PWA quickly. No waiting for content to load or clunky navigation options. Google's Lighthouse checklist suggests things like caching content so that each page loads instantly. When working on a PWA project, designers have to ensure that users aren't hit by loading delays.

Designing a PWA that uses placeholders and lazy-loading will make for happy users who'll keep launching the PWA. It's no good having a PWA that performs like a browser-based website. For the app-like experience to be successful, a PWA has to be better, faster, and easier to use. 

PWAs That Work Offline

Android users have come to depend on the ability to use their native apps offline and expect PWAs to perform in the same way. One feature that allows web designers to fulfill this aspect of their PWA is a technology called 'service workers'. With this, page content gets cached so that when users have little or no data connection, the app still functions without lag or connection error messages.

Back Buttons

Android users are familiar with back buttons in their native apps, so it makes sense for PWAs to also use this function. Designers want their users to experience PWAs as no different (or perhaps better) than native apps. Continuity is important. Back buttons can be incorporated into PWAs, placing them in the header bar. Doing so will improve the positivity of the user experience.

Challenges in Creating User-Friendly PWAs

It's a common misconception that because PWAs are a hybrid between app and website then web designers will have no trouble building them. The truth is, there's a world of difference between designing a website and building a PWA. New skills and techniques, and technological expertise are needed. That's not to say that web designers can't build successful PWAs. Many do, but only as a result of developing new skills.

Web designers delving into the world of PWAs have the added burden of making sure the app is set up correctly. Small errors can have a negative impact on a user experience, so rigorous testing is a must.

Building a PWA isn't simple, but there are tools for designers that can make the process much less of a steep learning curve. Using SDKs can significantly reduce the development time, meaning the PWA reaches the customer sooner.

SEO Challenges

SEO with PWAs is even more important, since there can be crawling issues due to the way that Google's bots view each page as JavaScript. Designers who skillfully optimize their PWAs, however, will reap the rewards for the extra effort. With careful implementation, PWAs can easily achieve an SEO score of 85%.

Businesses and PWAs

PWAs are changing the way that businesses engage and interact with their customers. They offer a more efficient means of generating leads and have advantages over both native apps and responsive websites. Any business who is serious about increasing their online presence and market share needs to be considering whether a PWA is in their future.

Does Every Business Need a PWA?

The answer to this question, of course, depends on the business. For some, it's enough to have a responsive website. For others, however, the extra engagement and conversion rate of PWAs make them a useful addition to a business' online presence.

Businesses who are in the e-commerce sector almost certainly need a PWA. The benefits of having an app-like experience, instant content and easy checkout far outweigh the cost of employing a web designer with PWA skills. Increased engagement and conversion rates mean increased revenue, so businesses who don't yet have a PWA should surely be making it a priority.

Top 5 Benefits of PWAs

1) They offer the best of both worlds

PWAs are websites that look like apps, combining two of the most important interfaces in the technological age when it comes to consumers. Firstly, PWAs avoid forcing a user to open the Google Play Store and download an app, which takes up valuable time. Secondly, PWAs take away the need to open a mobile web browser and navigate to a site. In the age when consumers are focused on instant results, PWAs are understandably important.

2) They don't require a data connection

Like native Android apps, PWAs can function without a data connection. This means that users can, effectively, access a business' web content without actually being connected to the internet. If that isn't a reason for businesses to reach out to a PWA developer right now, I don't know what is!

3) Avoid Google Play Store Headaches

Designing apps for Google Play Store can cause headaches for developers. PWAs avoid this, and also any cross-platform availability issues, too. Users only have to use the Add to Homescreen function, and because PWAs are hosted on web servers, updates happen automatically.

4) PWAs Have Greater Visibility

The fact that PWAs are websites that look like apps means that they're indexed by search engines more effectively. Users can find them easily and add them to their homescreen in an instant. Plus, there are no additional steps involved here, no being directed to the Google Play Store and the interruption caused by that. Giving users direct access to PWAs is hugely effective.

5) No Installation and Minimal Storage Space

Smartphone storage capacities have rapidly increased over the last ten years, and Android users can extend the storage space with memory cards. That being said, storage space is still at a premium. PWAs don't need to be installed, so they don't take up valuable space on the user's smartphone. It's a win-win situation for consumers, since they don't have to navigate to the Google Play Store, and they don't lose any storage space.

Businesses Successfully Utilizing PWA Advantages

It's not just the big platforms such as Forbes and Twitter who are making the most of the growing market for PWAs. Businesses big and small are launching PWAs and seeing great results.

AliExpress

One of the first businesses to take advantage of the Add to Homescreen feature, AliExpress has developed a PWA that customers love. Part of their success is down to the PWA's user-friendly interface and easy navigation. They utilize a sticky header with all the essential actions such as back, cart and search. These simple features make their PWA easy and quick to use - perfect for busy customers.

Tipsy Table

At the other end of the scale, Tipsy Table is set to revolutionize the pub and restaurant industry as it will provide customers with a dedicated PWA for Android users that can be used to interact with both the venue and each other. Taking advantage of the adaptability of PWA and the huge market for apps that save time for customers, this is sure to be a huge success.

Web Design Agencies with PWA Skills

There are a lot of web design agencies who offer PWA building services. These agencies have skilled experts who have experience of Progressive Web App creation and can help businesses build PWAs that their clients will love.

Some businesses successfully do their own web design, often using platforms such as WordPress. With PWAs it's much more important to use a professional web design agency, because PWAs are not like websites in many aspects. The complexity of PWAs requires an experienced designer with access to the right tools to create a great user experience.

Roundhay Web Design

Roundhay Web Design  are one web design agency who specialize in creating websites that are optimized for mobile platforms, especially on Android devices. They've adapted to the PWA trend and their wealth of experience is reflected in the quality of their work.

Web Design Review

You can see web design agencies who have a reputation for creating PWAs and superb websites that are optimized for visitors via Android devices at Web Design Review. They have researched the UK web design industry and written reviews of the 10 they’ve found to be the best web designers in the country.

Final Thoughts

The versatility and ease of use of Progressive Web Apps means that they're seriously taking on native apps and winning. The way that apps are developed is changing, and if current trends regarding PWAs continue, then native apps seem sure to face a challenge in the future. The Add to Homescreen feature for Android users opens up a whole world of possibilities for designers and businesses alike. PWAs are relatively new in their current incarnation, and it will be interesting to see how the features develop and expand in the years to come.

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