For your MVP: PWA or mobile application?

I recently met a founder who challenged me: “I have an online travel agency, why would I create a mobile application when I can create a Progressive Web App?”.

On the spot, i did not have a good answer. To be honest, I never researched PWAs and just assumed that they were bad. Though for that conclusion I had no arguments and the root of that answer probably laid in the fact that this is not something I offer.

So last week, I took some time to do some digging and what I found surprised me and conforted me in my answer.

What are PWAs?

PWAs are essentially responsive web sites which are repackaged as an app with extra technology to make the experience smoother.

One the of the big technology that is added is Service Workers. Service workers will preload and cache the code of your app so that when the page is needed, it can be displayed almost immediately. No need to go ask it from the server again. That makes for a much quicker UX.

Another benefit is that PWAs can be installed on your phone home-screen so you don’t have to remember the URL.

Can you ditch your native app?

PWAs as replacement for a native or react native app has a lot of limitations from the technical stand point (some serious, other no so much):

  • No push notification on iOS
  • on iOS, opening another app, might or might not terminate your PWA depending on how long you stay out of the app and other factors. This can be problematic for feature that require to go out of app to get some information
  • No background sync
  • No video camera support on iOS
  • Local storage is limited to 50Mb on iOS
  • Don’t count on using the acceleration sensor, gyroscope , bluetooth, NFC on iOS
  • No access to contacts
  • Limited AR and VR capabilities
  • No widgets
  • Cannot lock the screen orientation

You probably noticed how most of those limitation are iOS only…

To me though the main problem with PWA is the installation flow on iOS. To install a PWA, the user has to tap on the Action button in the navigation bar, then tap add to homescreen. I can pretty much say that no one knows how to do that. So there is huge education barrier on the iOS side. Oh and you can only install a PWA from Safari. So anyone using an alternative browser will not see your PWA.

On android things are working a lot better. I won’t go into details, because this is not my area of expertise and given how bad the support is on iOS, I can’t see myself recommending PWAs as mobile app replacement.

Though another interesting conclusion is this: PWAs are great at improving your mobile web site…

Wait, what was that? You read it right, while replacing your mobile app with a PWA might not be a good idea yet, integrating the PWA technologies into your website will improve the user experience of the user on your site. The site will be quicker. And we all know that a faster site leads to better user experience which leads to happier users.

Here are some stats to drive that point home:

  • Twitter increased pages per session for Twitter by 65% and the number of tweets sent increased by 75%,
  • AliExpress increased pages visited by 100% and time spent per session increased by 74%,
  • AliExpress increased the conversion rate for new users by 104%,
  • Trivago increased their hotel offers click-out rate by 97%,
  • OLX increased click-through rate on ads by 146%. By using push notifications they saw 250% higher user re-engagement,
  • Treebo increased conversion rate 4 times,
  • Alibaba increased conversions by 76%.
  • OLX lowered their bounce rates by 80%.
  • lowered their bounce rate by 40%.

I hope that will help you pick the right technology for your project. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

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