The mobile app revolution

In my last article ‘The mobile app crisis’ I explored the current landscape of mobile apps, as well as some of the challenges facing those looking to get an app on the app store. With the Apple App Store about to celebrate its 10th Birthday, around 2 million apps under its belt, and reported developer earnings of $100 billion, it’s a pretty exciting market to be in. But the market is changing, almost as fast as the platforms themselves, and as always we have to keep up.

At the end of my last article I introduced the Progressive Web App, a new and exciting technology aimed at delivering app like experiences on the web. So, this time I’d like to re-explore the process of app development I discussed in my last article, tackling the stages from the angle of a Progressive Web App, exploring how they might help solve some of the challenges we’re currently facing.

Progressive Web Apps may not solve poverty, or global warming (maybe there could be an app for that?), nor will they solve all of the issues facing the mobile app industry. However, Progressive Web Apps provide a powerful new way of delivering content, experiences, and functionality to the widest possible audience.

Let’s dive in.

“more unique ideas and innovation”

A Better Idea

App stores provide a shop front where users can explore current trends, and download the ‘hottest’ apps. Unfortunately, the App Store model hasn’t inspired a huge amount of innovation in recent years. Of course there are surges of new ideas as and when hardware and operating systems have allowed — for example the rise of the ‘AR’ apps recently. But past these significant moments the app stores appear to fill up with copycats and opportunists — do you happen to remember ‘Flappy Bird’? There must be dozens of duplicates on the various app stores even now, because one guy had a good idea and made some money, and also, well why not?

I hope that a shift to the web world will inspire a different approach. With a wider reach and lack of shop front hopefully we’ll see more unique ideas and innovation, and ones not solely designed to make some quick cash (although you can’t blame people for trying). Perhaps we’ll see a drop in use of the trendy phrase of “I’ve got an app on the App Store” too.

“focus more on the devices and users”

Improved Design

With a bit of luck we’ll see designers flex their muscles a little. With no App Store guidelines or expectations of what a app should look and feel like on a particular platform, designers will be able to explore some new ideas. They’ll be able to focus more on the devices and users, and less on the platform they’re designing for. And with a greater ability to get updates to end-users (more on that in a moment), we should be able to experiment more than ever before.

More (web) apps will also have proper design input, as designers will be utilised for the design of one app rather than one for each platform. This is a huge reduction in upfront cost for those looking to create an app, helping more ideas get off the ground, and delivery better experiences across-the-board.

“we won’t have to decide which users to leave out”

Build, Iterate

Much like with the design, development costs will also be reduced significantly when developing a Progressive Web App over a native app, as we’ll be building just one app for all platforms. This also means we won’t have to decide which users to leave out due to it being ‘not cost effective’ to develop for their platform.

Delivering updates to users also becomes much easier, with no App Store hoops to jump through and no waiting on approval (we’ve already done all the testing). Updates can be delivered any which way you like, the way that’s best for the users.

One of the significant requirements of a Progressive Web App is that of https. A Progressive Web App can only be a Progressive Web App if it is delivered over https. This enforcement is really positive for securing the direction of the web, and apps, users are becoming more aware of the need for such technology.

Of course there’s still a lot to consider when actually developing an app, web or otherwise; technology wouldn’t have it any other way.

“a pretty good partnership to form if you want to position yourself above your competitors”

Found It

Luckily, this is the web, so getting a Progressive Web App found is a familiar marketing challenge. There’s no need to learn and keep up-to-date with app store quirks, marketing teams can continue to use the knowledge they have with tools they’re used to.

Of course there are more websites than apps, and despite the app stores being saturated there is the potential for a greater number of competitors on the web. Web Apps are not completely new, so there could be some competitor apps out there. However, there are a couple of important things to consider here. Firstly, many people have been on the native bandwagon, so fewer web apps than native apps have been developed then could be expected. Secondly, Progressive Web Apps are a Google imagined and endorsed technology, that’s a pretty good partnership to form if you want to position yourself above your competitors.

Ultimately marketing budget is still important, but there are many more angles we can take to get our apps found on the web, after all the web has the widest audience and reach.

“network and storage conditions are now something we can tackle head on”

Don’t Wait, Use

Unlike a non-web app, users will not have to wait for a Progressive Web App to download and install. Nor does a user have to download an entire app just to use 10% of it’s functionality.

One of the most important aspects of a Progressive Web app is it’s core focus on reaching more people, no matter what the network quality, no matter what the storage availability. These constraints will still be challenging to overcome, and a Progressive Web App will need to be carefully designed and implemented to work under these conditions. But, network and storage conditions are now something we can tackle head on.

Additionally, not only are updates easier to deliver, but you don’t have to download and reinstall the entire app. Specific files, components, parts of the app can be updated as they need to, and all can happen without the user ‘checking for updates’ and waiting on the download-install cycle.

“native style push notifications through the browser”

Use Again And Again

Many of us have a quick look on the App Store and download an app or two, and never use them. They sit on our home screens and eventually get moved into folders, until our devices decide they’re no longer needed and wipe them from our lives. Progressive Web Apps employ a different approach here, and one which will hopefully result in us utilising the apps we ‘download’ more frequently. After you have used a Progressive Web App a couple of times, or spent an amount of time on it, the browser will prompt you to add it to your home screen. That useful app has now ‘earned’ its place in your life and you’re therefore more likely to make frequent use of it.

Native app push notifications are really clever, they have been carefully designed to grab your attention and keep you engaged, keep you using an app. Perhaps one of the biggest shortcomings of web apps has been the lack of push notifications. Until now. Progressive Web Apps can now deliver native style push notifications through the browser — checkmate.

“Reliable, Fast, Engaging”

Solution? What Solution?

Progressive Web Apps are described by Google as “A new way to deliver amazing user experiences on the web.” and are designed to be:

  • Reliable — Load instantly and never show the downasaur, even in uncertain network conditions.
  • Fast — Respond quickly to user interactions with silky smooth animations and no janky scrolling.
  • Engaging — Feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.

They really will have a huge impact on the industry, and will dramatically change the way we think about, develop, and use apps.

If you’d like to find out more about Progressive Web Apps, perhaps even how one could be created to bring your idea, business, or project to life, then feel free to get in touch with me at liam@lunarworks.co.uk. There’s a lot to discuss and discover, and a good reason as to why we’re currently building some Progressive Web App demos at Lunar Works.

If you’ve got a moment, take a look at our website https://lunarworks.co.uk, once you’ve explored a little try turning off your WiFi, unplugging your ethernet cable, or disabling your mobile network, you’ll be able to continue using our website as if you were still online. Magic. Progressive Web App.

My Vision

I am driven by technology for good, both personally and for my business; Lunar Works. I believe that in order to successfully produce meaningful technology for society, we must bring the best, most impactful, most useful ideas to life in a way that will reach the most people. This is the challenge that keeps me enthusiastic about the industry and excited for the difference I can make.

Next Steps

These are my thoughts and musings; you may see the world in a different way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Are you interesting in finding out more about Progressive Web Apps? How do you see the app market shifting?

Keep looking out for new articles on the topics of AI, ML, Web Apps and technology in society.

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