Why Progressive Web Apps could be a threat to mobile apps
If you have ever used Flipkart’s mobile website or even Freecharge’s for that matter, you are already familiar with progressive web apps or PWAs. They load instantly, even when there’s little to no network, respond seamlessly to your flicks and swishes and feel just like using a native app. In essence, these are very much like mobile apps but doesn’t come with the baggage of taking up precious storage on your phone.
“In the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out a new version of this experience in Chrome beta. With this new version, once a user adds a Progressive Web App to their Home screen, Chrome will integrate it into Android in a much deeper way than before,” said the Chromium blog.
The web app could previously be pinned on the home screen through Chrome shortcuts, but now these PWAs will be more integrated deep enough for them to appear on the app drawer as well as on the Settings app and allow them to interact with other apps installed in the system. A long press on them will surface notifications.
A move like this could potentially disrupt the mobile apps-space. If you have the option of getting the same experience of a native app from a mobile website, why take the pains of downloading it?
In fact, with app downloads slowing down globally, PWAs could be the final nail in the coffin. Opera’s VP for South and South East Asia, Sunil Kamath pointed out to Gizmodo India that such a move could be beneficial especially in a market like India.
“PWA could be an interesting trade-off for a market like India and 2017 could be a year it takes off. The dynamics are quite suitable for this market. If you go beyond tier 1 cities, the inertia to download an app over a data network is still an issue and the network itself is a bit questionable in India,” said Kamath in a conversation which happened a couple of weeks before Google announced the integration of PWAs in the Android app drawer.
Both Google and Microsoft have been hard at work trying to scale down the web to work more like an app. Apps have the advantage of minimal load times while pulling info from the web and displaying it on attractive splash screens. PWAs also do essentially the same, minus the need to install them on your local storage. With Progressive Web Apps and Hosted Web Apps, both Google and Microsoft have been pushing for this paradigm for quite a while.
Flipkart already uses Google’s platform for its Flipkart Lite web app with an enhanced mobile experience that completely does away with the need to install the native app.
"We know that everyone needs to build mobile-first experiences. With Flipkart Lite, we've developed a powerful, technically-advanced web app that performs as well as our native app. We now feel we have the best of both worlds,” said Amar Nagaram, an Engineering Director at Flipkart at the time told Gizmodo India.
Opera too have been at the thick of web apps for quite some time. Former CEO and co-founder Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner said, “ the idea behind progressive web apps has been around for many years and this is yet another effort to push it forward. We believe in this direction and hope to see even wider adoption.”
Opera launched the Opera Platform way back in 2003 for exactly this reason. It was a web-based UI for phones. To leverage elements like web widgets, web OSes, smart TVs, etc.
“This was all way ahead of its time and it is surprising that it has taken so long for Google to implement it. So for me, the time where Web applications were at the level of native applications was 14 years ago,” he claimed.
The slow uptake in the adoption of web-apps may be attributed to higher development costs as compared to a standard mobile website.
Tetzchner’s new company, Vivaldi which is coming out with a new browser that is due to hit smartphones sometime this year may also not come with support for PWAs from the beginning, pointing towards the incremental resources needed to enable support for PWAs.
Mozilla’s Firefox OS which was largely a cloud-based OS leveraging web apps wasn’t quite successful for this very reason.
However, considering the might of Google and Microsoft, along with innovators like Opera pushing hard for the adoption of PWAs, 2017 might just be the year web-apps finally breach the mainstream and become the status quo.