Progressive Webs Apps: Africa may be the biggest gainer

From Ericsson Mobility Report released mid last year(June 2015), Africa’s mobile subscribers stand at a little less than half a billion.

Africa reports experiencing the highest growth globally. Three-quarter of the global subscription growth came from Africa and Asia jointly.

Ok! Great news. So what does this have to do with progressive web apps?

Everything. Just one more thing, before we connect the dots. 75 percent of mobile phone purchases made last year were smartphones.

If infrastructure and mobile phones were in a race, infrastructure would be the tortoise. Only this time the rabbit would win. Like in actual reality (duh!).

80% of these subscriptions are on GSM/EDGE-only connectivity. These speeds range between 40kbps to 250kbps. Sucks! right? (I hope you’re nodding)

Right! The dots!! Infrastructure has given the web a bad reputation. The web versions of services provided by companies are perceived as data heavy and slow. Due to this, the mental perception of the web hasn’t changed much in the broader development community. A Little momentum is actually visible. It’s the place you go to get some information, news and blog posts, if not to download their “native” mobile app, is what most people would say.

Frankly to a front-end developer like me who has the truth about the tremendous growth of the web at heart disagrees that the truth hurts. Negligence does, severely.

Servers and backend development have hoarded much of the attention belonging to front-end development. Wordpress, Joomla and bootstrap themes have substituted front-end development currently on a severe negligence injury leave. This constructive negligence has caused the progress of the web to be neglected big time. It’s no surprise we’ve had hundreds of SMS based ideas popping up all over, all starting with M-something. Not saying it’s a bad thing. SMS remains the major medium of messaging in Africa. But more SMS crunching servers translates to more backend development.

(Breath in!) OK! Let me stop whining.

I’m super super excited specifically about the tremendous progress the web has made from 2014. I’m excited to create awareness about it all. Someone has to.

The front-end isn’t dead. Neither is it the tiny static content place you perceived it is. It has never been more powerful as it is today. The little attention you give it now will stir up positively great wonders for you.

Let’s begin with the release of HTTP version 2. A much faster internet for the web. I would then start introducing all of the Web APIs that have been released even since HTML5 came to be but one model being worked on together by Google, Mozilla, Opera and Samsung could help sum it all. Progressive Web Apps.

An example of a progressive web app being installed and opened.

From the Google Web Fundamentals site, progressive web apps are web apps(duh!) with modern web capabilities to deliver an app-like user experience. They evolve from pages in browser tabs to immersive, top-level apps, leveraging the web’s low friction.

Hmm! Keep going. You’ve now got my attention. So you’re saying these are web apps given the right condition can become mobile apps without fancy wrappers.

Right. Am glad we’re on the same page.

There have been many attempts in making the web “native”. Phonegap, Ionic and Meteor being the most popular ones we know. They make web app “appy”. They become downloadable. Installable. Work offline. Become fast by going native. These tools wrap your web application around “native” code that bridges the communication between the web app and the devices hardware. Why? Remember native code easily shakes hands with the hardware. Besides, they’re next door neighbors if not roommates.

The motive behind this frictional approach is to make native mobile apps using web technologies and not making web apps native mobile apps. — me.

Yeah! We know this! Tell us something new. This is because the web can’t access many of the mobile devices hardware and features. The motive behind this frictional approach is to make native mobile apps using web technologies and not making web apps native mobile apps.

Is this possible? The question is — are you sure it’s not possible?

let me borrow Conan’s voice, “THE WEB CAN DO EVERYTHING!!!”

OK! Conan. We get you.

Ok! Almost everything.

Am going to let you ask me questions but let us chant the answers together.

Can it be installed? Yes. Can it work offline completely, “for reeal” like a native app? Certainly. Can it show content I accessed before I lost connection? Absolutely! Can it do some tasks in the background even when closed completely? Unquestionably! Say hi to the Background Sync API. Is it as secure as native mobile apps? Indubitably. PWAs are served via HTTPS to prevent snooping and ensure content hasn’t been tampered with. Can it re-engage the user with push notifications? Without fail. Get user’s location coordinates? Naturally! :)

OK! Give me a second I find something it can’t access or do. Aha! File system??? I did say almost everything. (Gotcha!!)

There have been dozens of Web APIs over the past years and much more on its way. The web is now capable of satisfying an extremely vast range of web/mobile apps that currently exist in the market. Can you make a SnapChat entirely on web technologies? Definitely yes. Instagram? Yes. Spotify? Yes. Skype? Yes. Shaz — stop it! You now get it.

Furthermore, the web addresses some issues mobile apps have.

  • Installs are not an issue (remember, low friction)
  • Have no APK size restrictions, neither are they worryingly large
  • Are always up-to-date (do not require re-installs for an update to happen, causing the user to use more data if they are to update the application)
  • They work everywhere (they are still web apps that work in any browser)
  • Tend to be trusted more than native apps
  • Users are paranoid and cautious when it comes to how they use their devices storage space (the expansive nature of native mobile apps on install is a worrying trend to low budget smartphones)

These factors make progressive web apps a natural great fit for emerging markets and budget smartphones. Guess what? These are the trending cases in Africa right now.

Lastly, every step users take to use your services costs you 20% of these users in each step. Native apps have high friction. If we took a sample of 1000 users, having a direct link to a vendor’s app in the store, a vendor loses a little more than half of the users. Unlike having a direct link to a web app, the user ends up on the homepage and immediately begins to use the app. This results in a retention rate of at least 80% of users.

Flipboard reported 75% growth when they embraced the mobile web. Paul Kinlan from Google states: If you are building a mobile app at the expense of a mobile site you are doing it wrong.

Impress them there! And keep them there!

What if you didn’t have to convert your user into an installed user, your user is already a real user the minute they land on your page? Impress them there! And keep them there! Eventually, the user progressively builds a relationship with your mobile site turning him into an installed user frictionlessly. You get to keep your web users and get to turn some into installed users. When on earth have you ever had this chance??? Africa, rise up.

Now smile and get-outta-here!! :)