Mobility

Why it's time for businesses to get serious about Progressive Web Apps

As Gartner has signaled, the explosion of Progressive Web Apps may be looming. Here's what you need to know.

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Image: iStockphoto/diego_cervo

There used to be an app for that, but most brands now seem more concerned with their mobile websites. This constitutes a natural maturing of the market as brands figure out how to cater to their most loyal customers (apps), while opening wide the doors to new customers (web). It is this thirst for new customers that increasingly drives a focus on superior mobile web experiences.

Ironically, however, the key to this superior mobile web experience is...an app.

Or, rather, a Progressive Web App (PWA). Though PWAs have been on the radar for savvy brands for some time, they may now be ready for mainstream adoption. One leading indicator? Gartner is now talking them up. As Gartner analyst Jason Wong wrote recently: "Application leaders responsible for mobile app strategies must determine when—not if—they need to factor in PWAs as part of their overall mobile development strategy."

Attention CIOs and CMOs, it's time to get serious about PWAs.

Getting serious about mobile web

We've come a long way since 2014 when "an abysmal[] and surprisingly low number," of websites were responsive, as one commentator put it. That doesn't necessarily mean that enterprises have flocked to responsive either: One 2015 analysis pegged total responsive sites at 11.8%.

SEE: Does there need to be an app for that? (TechRepublic)

Part of this has stemmed from an investment in mobile apps. But a larger part has been the belated realization that the web still matters...a lot. Apps are fantastic ways to engage already committed customers. Some services like push messaging only come to life in an app. They are, however, weak when it comes to discovery and for most enterprises, figuring out how to get more customers is a top priority, if not the top priority.

As mentioned, this realization has been relatively recent. In my conversations with CMOs and other executives leading digital initiatives, the interest in improving web experiences is profound. Not surprisingly, this is starting to show up in budgets, as data from a recent Adobe Mobile Maturity survey shows:

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Adobe

Both mobile apps and mobile web are seeing increased investment, but the web is seeing more. This stems from a renewed prioritization of the web:

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Adobe

For those companies that have more aspiration to take the web seriously than invested capital (and if that 11.8% number is to be believed, that's pretty much everyone), take heart. If you haven't started investing in responsive, your money may be better spent on PWAs, anyway.

Taking responsive to a new level

After all, if mobile web is going to serve as a top-of-funnel customer experience, it needs to be fantastic. Apps have been the province of such experiences and, as Gartner's Wong continued, PWAs use "the latest browser technologies to meld the accessibility of the web with the presence of the mobile app." In other words, they make the web more app-like. Things like offline and push notifications that had been possible only in the app lose their fetters and can be delivered through the web (enabled by service worker magic).

SEE: Apple could lose billions on Progressive Web Apps, but it has no choice (TechRepublic)

When should a company invest? As one analyst friend at Forrester told me, "Now." A year from now, he speculated, PWAs would start to go mainstream, and companies that invest now would win. Or as Wong wrote, "It's only a matter of time before PWAs become the new standard for web interactions, just as responsive design has become the norm rather than the exception."

We can quibble on how broadly responsive has gone, but we're in agreement on PWAs: They're the future of the mobile web which, in turn, is largely the future of the web and the bulk of customer interaction.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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