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Apps vs PWAs

Written by Daniel
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In our latest ‘Industry Spotlight’ Chris, Lee and Jamie take a look at some of the key differences between Apps and PWAs, and what their future may look like. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest episodes.

See below for the full video transcription.



Jamie: The next topic we’re going to quickly discuss are Apps and PWAs. So, PWAs are progressive web apps. And this has been an emerging technology over the last two or three years now. And Google have pretty much led this initiative, similar to AMP, which we’re going to talk about as well. Google like to sort of break new ground and sometimes go against the grain in terms of standards and stuff. And what they’ll do is they’ll publish something that they think is the way to do it, which may or may not be a good idea, and then they’ll just sort of push it into Chrome, push it into Android and hope everyone follow suit. It’s not always the case though. And you’ll find now with PWAs, the spec changes almost on a monthly basis and you’ll have Chrome leading the way like I mentioned, and Android. And then there’s Apple and iPhone and Mac trying to catch up. 

And Obviously, you’ve got Chrome on those platforms but they’re not first-class citizens and such. PWAs are really, really great because it means that you can essentially have a website that operates as an app. So, it saves you development costs. So, you’re not going to have much of a need to buy development resource for an app and a website separately. It’s more of a case of just bolstering your existing website and that would essentially act as an app. Now, one of the reasons that people traditionally invest in apps are discovery, to get published in the App Store. So, this is a really, really big milestone for PWAs. And there’s been a lot of rumours. I don’t think there’s been an official announcement from Google yet or Apple. But as soon as PWAs are discoverable in the App Store, that’ll be a huge, huge milestone and that will change the tide and people will start taking it very seriously then. 

But again, with Google leading the way here, you’ll probably see PWAs in the Google Play Store long before you see it in the App Store that Apple control. Obviously, Apple have a much stricter vetting process to get apps in there. So, something like this which would change the landscape drastically may never happen on IOS. We’ll have to wait and see but I’m pretty much certain it will be in the Google Play Store at some point in the future, it’s just depending on when. And I think we might be waiting for maturity on standards and waiting for the big players to sort of catch up and get all the websites in line with the PWA spec. And once that’s the case, I think we’ll start seeing Google really take it seriously and really start to consider putting it in their Play Store. Once it’s discoverable and once it’s in there and once they are first class citizens, and if they can be totally indistinguishable for the end-user, then that will basically seal the deal really. That’ll just make it a no-brainer for you to invest in adding the extra dev resource to your website in terms of adding the extra little bits of functionality that enable it to be a PWA. 

Chris: What’s, would you say, the key benefit over a native app, then?

Jamie: The key benefit is that essentially, it’s just a representation of your website. So, everyone knows how easy it is to update a website nowadays, especially if you’ve got a CMS like WordPress. You basically log in, make your changes, click save and your website is updated. Whereas, on an app, you’ve got to… So, say… I mean, a news app or something that reads from a CMS may have an API built in that reads them the news. But say, you’ve got an app that… I don’t know. Can book gym classes, for example. If you want to go ahead and change your branding on that app, you will have to essentially get in touch with your app developer, get him to do all your graphics, etc, put all them into the app, package it up, sign it, upload it to the marketplace – Google Play Store as it’s now called – and the App Store. So, you’ve got to publish it to all the different app stores. So, you’ve got two key players there but there could be more in the future. 

In Apple’s case, you’ve got to get them to approve it as well. So, it’s a much longer process. And it’s something that’s time-consuming. It means you’ve got to do that, again, on your website as well and get them in sync and do it at the same time. So, again, it’s an approval process. If the client wants to change something, it won’t happen now, you’ve got to wait a week. You’ve got to change your website at the same time. Two different things that are going on at once. So, you’ve just got one central place to manage, what is your app and your website, which would become one and the same thing essentially. 

Chris: What do you think the adoption will be on those? Once it builds in a bit more popularity, do you think it’ll really accelerate as soon as more catch on?

Jamie: Yeah. It’s all about discoverability for me. At the moment, PWAs are really hard to install. I don’t even know if they’ve settled on a word yet. I don’t know if install is even the word. 

Lee: Add to home screen. 

Jamie: Still add to home screen? I’m not sure if Chrome Beta on Android now has dropped the add to home screen. If you’ve got all the PWA spec on your website, it might even say install now. I can’t remember. That’s basically the next big milestone. So, as soon as we’ve got the wording around that sorted and maybe an install banner on Chrome that can get you to push it in and then it comes into your app drawer. Once you’ve got that, you’re sort of halfway there and then it’s just a matter of getting it into the App Store. Like I said, I think Google is definitely going to be the first of the two big vendors to do that. 

And then it’s going to be really crucial if they can make it indistinguishable. So, like I said before, to see things like AMP, for example, and you’ve got the little lightning bolt so you know you’re going to an AMP page, rather than a website. So, they might take an approach like that and the PWAs might appear in the Play Store with… I don’t know. Maybe it’ll be a lightning bolt. Maybe it’ll be a little web or a globe or something or it’ll be totally indistinguishable. It’ll be ranked in the same order. And in that case, if a user doesn’t know the difference then it’s going to be really, really widely adopted, obviously apps are huge.

Chris: I think that’s clearly going to be the key thing. If people can use it in the exact same manner as a native app, then it’s going to spread quite quickly, isn’t it? But no doubt, there will be quite a few teething issues to begin with for a lot of people. 

Jamie: You’ve also got discrepancies with existing apps. Say, for example, Twitter, Twitter’s got a really good PWA. If you go onto their site now on the stable version of Chrome, on the stable version of Android, you can add it… I don’t know if it’s “add to home screen” or “install” or what. But basically, you can get it in as a PWA and it’s pretty much identical to the native experience. There’s still a few teething problems with integration into deep hardware features, so things like, for example, using your Bluetooth on your phone or using your push notifications.

Chris: From a marketing standpoint, that’s quite a big thing as well with the push notifications and all that kind of thing. That works for a lot of marketers. So, I don’t know how they’d figure that integration out. 

Jamie: Yeah. Because essentially, you’re just using web technology. Scribe is just a website, essentially, in a wrapper. So, as soon as you start getting into the more integrated hardware features… So, say, if Spotify made a PWA and you want to control your Bluetooth speaker through it or something, it’s pretty popular like that, you might run into problems quite quickly because that technology is still catching up in terms of having those APIs in browser. And this is before I even start talking about other browsers. So, you’re talking Safari or Firefox. Google is sort of leading the way and just getting these APIs into Chrome as quick as they can. But other browsers could be years… It could never happen. 

Chris: So, a fairly long road ahead do you think?

Jamie: Yeah. Big road. Massive. 

Lee: The benefits are there for the users. I think you maintain one code basis for the three. The key is going to be like you say, the discoverability. I think that’s a massive advantage. And obviously, the functionality is going to play a part. 

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