Why Native Apps Really are Doomed: Native Apps are Doomed pt 2

I recently wrote an article called “Native Apps are Doomed.” I was surprised at how many people were defending native apps. In all honesty, the user experience story for native apps has never been impressive. The numbers paint a bleak picture for native app success rates that teams need to be aware of when they make important decisions about how to build a new app.

Native apps face two gigantic hurdles trying to compete with Progressive Web Apps (PWAs):

  • Instead of writing 3 different apps, one for Android, one for iOS, and one for the web, PWA app makers only need to build one app that works for all 3.
  • App install friction is suffocating native apps.

App store friction is a major obstacle. It takes about 6 clicks to install a native app, and with each click, you lose about 20% of your users. Deciding to install an app is a lot harder than deciding to use a web app. You have to click install, wait for the app to download, worry about how much space it will take, and worry about the scary permissions it will require. Native apps lose a lot of their potential users before they even click install.

With a progressive web app, you visit a URL and immediately get to try the app. If you continue to use it, you get prompted to install it to your home screen with one click. From that point on, it behaves like a native app. It can work offline, take photos, use WebGL for 3D games, access the GPU for hardware accelerated processing, record audio, etc… The web platform has grown up. It’s time to take it seriously. See “10 Must See Web Apps & Games” for examples of what the web can do.

If you doubt the impact that progressive web apps can have, you’re not paying attention to the way that native apps are being used (or the more common case, not used) in the market today.

It’s very expensive to acquire users for mobile apps, and even more expensive to acquire active users. Throw in the fact that app stores charge a revenue split for the privilege, and you begin to see why only a tiny fraction of native apps ever gain any traction, let alone recoup their development and marketing costs.

Why Native Apps are a Gamble

Meanwhile, more than half of all web traffic comes from mobile. In other words, instead of downloading your app, users are using top apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat or browsing the web.

You may be thinking that PWAs are a non-starter until iOS starts to support the manifest standard and service workers, but I have news for you:

  1. You can achieve PWA-like behavior with Apple’s proprietary meta tags.
  2. There is a service worker polyfill for Cordova that will allow you to build a hybrid app for iOS, so you can get the PWA benefits without sacrificing an app presence on iOS.

Even Without iOS, PWA Wins

iOS has 45% of the US smartphone market, and iOS users spend $1.08 per user per app vs $.43 on Android, so obviously, write an iOS app and you’ll come out ahead, right?

Not exactly. Android has 86% global market share. When you factor in the fact that native app install friction blocks 74% of your potential customers before they ever see your app, those iOS revenue per user numbers start to lose their shine.

Factoring in global market share, and the number of users you’ll lose to the install process on iOS, even if your PWA did not work on iOS (and it can, see above), chances are you’ll still earn 1.5x more from the PWA than you would from the same app on iOS.

Who’s Using Progressive Web Apps?

Google has been collecting PWA case studies and the results are pretty impressive.

Alibaba is the global leader in B2B trade. Recently, they upgraded to a PWA:

  • 76% more web conversions
  • 30% more monthly active users on Android, 14% more on iOS
  • 4X higher interaction rate from Add to Homescreen

Housing.com is one of the leading real estate platforms in India. After implementing their PWA:

  • 38% more conversions
  • 40% lower bounce rate
  • 10% longer average session
  • 30% faster page load

The Weather Channel launched a new PWA in 178 countries:

  • 80% improvement in load time
  • Added push notifications for mobile web users
  • Within 3 months, almost 1 million people opted in to push notifications

Conclusion

With a significantly larger investment, and a significantly lower return on investment, native apps just don’t make a lot of sense unless your app absolutely requires native capabilities that are not yet supported on the mobile web.

Building an app is expensive. You’re looking at a minimum $100k commitment to build a proper app (usually a lot more). If you want to cover the gamut with native apps, you can multiply that number almost by 3. And then you may have to battle to get your app in the app store and keep it there. Can you really afford to take that risk?

Progressive web apps are just beginning to gain traction, but the results so far have been encouraging.

Want to see how easy it is to get started on your new progressive web app? Check out “Native Apps are Doomed”.


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Eric Elliott is the author of “Programming JavaScript Applications” (O’Reilly), and “Learn JavaScript with Eric Elliott”. He has contributed to software experiences for Adobe Systems, Zumba Fitness, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, BBC, and top recording artists including Usher, Frank Ocean, Metallica, and many more.

He spends most of his time in the San Francisco Bay Area with the most beautiful woman in the world.