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The ~Progressive~ Future of Mobile Apps

The growing prominence of PWAs over of native apps

Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) have been surging in popularity over the past few months.

We believe that PWAs are not just another buzzword, but rather a paradigm shift in the world of digital consumer experiences. PWAs are the perfect fusion of web and mobile applications, marrying the broad reach of the internet with the fluidity of native mobile applications.

But what are PWAs and why should you care?

A PWA is just a website that can be installed on your device (typically mobile) and provide an app-like experience. They are inherently more versatile than typical native mobile apps.

For as long as smartphones have been around, native apps have dominated the appspace, simply because they offered more features and functionality than web applications, and they were easier to access and comprehend for average users.

But now, with recent iOS software updates and more developers realizing the benefits of building a web app over a native app. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Cross Platform Compatibility = Cost-Effective Deployment and Easier Maintenance – A single PWA can work across platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, etc.), eliminating the need to build multiple versions. This means developers can write the code once and have it run everywhere, saving companies time and resources and only having to maintain a single codebase.

  1. Immediate UpdatesUnlike native apps, which often require users to download new updates, PWAs can be updated on the server side in real-time. This ensures users always access the most recent version of the app without manual interventions.

  1. No App Store ApprovalLaunching a native app requires going through the app store approval process, which can be time-consuming and sometimes restrictive. PWAs bypass the need to jump through hoops to get the app live and provide more control over content and features.

  1. Discoverability Because they live online, PWAs can be easily discovered through search engines (rather than just through an app store). Whether through a shareable link, a QR code, or even just SEO strategies, it’s easier for companies to distribute a PWA than a native mobile app.

  1. Less Storage RequiredPWAs don’t need to be downloaded in the traditional sense, saving users storage space on their devices. We’ve all been there before, having to delete unused native apps to free up storage space. PWAs remove that issue.

  1. Linkable and ShareableURLs can easily share a PWA, making it simpler for users to share or simply access the content.

Why weren’t PWAs a thing before? What has changed?

It’s clear that there are a lot of capabilities that make PWAs attractive for developers, but there were previously a few areas they fell short.

For one, living on the web (rather than natively on a mobile device), PWAs used to require an internet connection to access, and they had to be accessed through a browser.

Additionally, PWAs were not able to send users native push notifications or display badges, so they easily got lost on busy homescreens with dozens of apps vying for a user's attention.

But now PWAs are becoming even more versatile.

They now offer offline capabilities, meaning that even without an internet connection, users can still access the app’s content and features. Moreover, they can be seamlessly added to a user’s home screen without having to go through a browser, speeding up accessibility and reducing friction. Now, to an end user, you don’t even have to know the difference between the two, as they appear exactly the same on your mobile device.

And, with the latest iOS update, push notifications can now be sent directly via the PWA, now offering an easy way for companies to reach their customers directly through their own channel.

So PWAs can now do a lot of the things they couldn’t before, but there’s even more.

In a digital world where user experience is paramount for companies, the speed and responsiveness of PWAs are a godsend. They load quickly, adapt seamlessly across devices and screen sizes, and they are now often indistinguishable from native apps.

And it doesn’t stop there – all sorts of other features PWAs are capable of. Many of us might not know that PWAs also offer the following features that we typically may have only thought could be possible with a native app, including:

  • Accessing camera / microphone

  • Geolocation

  • Connecting contacts (with permission)

  • Sharing texts, URLs, or files (just like in a native app)

  • Passwordless authentication (i.e. fingerprint or facial recognition)

  • Access to file system on user’s device

  • Barcode detection

  • Vibration & haptic feedback

  • Audio recording

  • Bluetooth (connect to BLE devices)

  • NFC tags

  • AR/VR

  • Payments (through Apple Pay or Google Pay)

  • Wake lock (prevent dimming)

  • Orientation (device rotation adjustment)

  • Multi-touch (complex touch behavior, such as zooming in/out, etc.)

  • And more!

*Note that while many of these are available on Android and Desktop, some have not come to iOS yet. However, the iOS functionality is growing rapidly, so we expect them to be available soon.

In sum, PWAs offer an experience that feels like it’s tailored to every platform. They are cost-effective and easier to maintain for companies, bypass the rigamarole of app store fees & regulations, save device storage space, can be updated automatically in real-time, and are easily accessible for consumers.

In some sense, PWAs represent a democratization of the digital world. They’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for small tech teams and redefining how consumers think about apps.

We welcome this future of the appspace – one that is, undoubtedly, progressive.

At Hang, we’ve been building our next generation loyalty platform as a PWA from the start. For all of the benefits mentioned above, as well as the growing prominence of PWAs more broadly amongst consumers, we’re helping brands to launch modern loyalty programs that live directly on their own websites.

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