Native apps are (mostly) a waste of time.

So you think you need an app for your phone and you were considering shelling out some cash to a developer to build you a native app. Before you waste your money (and time) paying a developer to deliver a native app the first thing you need to consider the advantages an app has over a traditional website.

The big three are:

  1. It is installable, ie it appears on the phone home screen, this gives it a massive advantage over a traditional website in ensuring ongoing user interaction.
  2. An app is fast, ie it is faster to load and interact with than a traditional website.
  3. It can send notifications, again this increases user interaction substantially.

Obviously these are not the only reasons but they are the major ones.

Now here is the kicker, you can get all the above features on a website on the majority of phones right now! Goodbye native apps and welcome to the world of progressive web apps.

What is a progressive web app (PWA), you may ask? Well at it is heart it is just a website with some additional features. Those features enable all three of the advantages I outlined above on the majority of smart phones worldwide, right now!! But being a website a PWA also has some massive advantages. They include:

  1. They are linkable, ie you can access them by opening a URL.
  2. They are much easier to build, after all they are just a website with some substantial enhancements.
  3. They are updatable, ie any changes can occur as soon as the PWA is accessed (as opposed to waiting for a user to download a new version of a native app).
  4. Being on the web they are cross platform.

Lets look at the state of play on different phones:

On android phones which now constitute the majority of smart phones worldwide all of the above advantages are currently already available to progressive web apps. ie visitors will be prompted to instal your website on the phone (provided it meets the PWA criteria) right now and that website if properly designed will be fast and be able to send notifications

For apple  the situation is not quite so good. Yes you can install a web app but the installation experience not obvious and there is no ability to send notifications. The good news is that but in the upcoming IOS version (IOS 12.2) there will be significant improvement. Once installed on your phone a well built progressive web app will behave like its native counterpart, with the only issue that it will not be able to send notifications. But that functionality is coming.

Update: since March 2023 IOS supports push notification for those running PWAs on IOS 16.4 or later.

So in conclusion is that unless you need certain hardware apis that are not supported by PWA´s yet or you desperately need notifications on Apple phones then you should find a web developer who can enhance your existing website to become a PWA. The future is PWA´s and the future (to a large extent) is already here.

Author: Peter Shaw

Is the founder and president of Princes Park Touch and the leader of the LocalHero project!

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