One and done: PWAs instead of mobile apps, mobile sites, and responsive design

By: Jessica Krywosa

Mobile device users access the web several times a day. That’s not a startling fact. But what may be more so (and a change we can readily see coming) is that the number of people going online only using a mobile device is steadily increasing, up 11% from last year.

With this in mind, businesses need to be able to reach potential and current customers via mobile, and with a decent user experience, knowing that half of all users abandon a site if it doesn’t load in under 3 seconds.

Many may choose to solve for this with a mobile app, native to a user’s device. Others may choose to ensure their desktop site is responsive or create a separate mobile site altogether. All of these come at a price: in development, maintenance, and most importantly, user experience. The more solutions you use to reach your mobile audience, obviously, the pricier.

Mobile App

Apps seemed to have been a point of pride for many brands, signifying importance, strength, and a deep user base. But in a digital world where anyone can create and deploy an app, it feels like our devices are gaining more clutter than utility. Apps disconnect us from our everyday experience and force us into a walled off garden. Yes, they are native and can take advantage of device functionality, but how often do we rely on this beyond simply fitting our device? Further, apps imply that users want to download and will use them. What about those who aren’t aware of your brand just yet? Or the 1 in 4 who abandon the app and never go back? Much is spent on re-engaging these users - so much so that a simple Google search yields numerous companies that specialize in this alone!

Separate Mobile Site

Maybe your primary desktop site is very large, has multiple complex navigations, or is very media heavy. To make this work well on mobile, you may reconfigure all of these, remove heavy media and strip down the experience. This may seem like a good idea but it robs your users of the true experience of your desktop site. If they are used to viewing your content on desktop and then navigate to it via mobile and find a completely different site it could be jarring and turn them off. You now also have another site to maintain and keep track of and possibly, to compete with. Google will see the mobile site as separate from your primary site with separate SEO rankings and links.

Responsive Site

It’s great to be able to design a website that prioritizes mobile first and adapts to screen or browser size. This does mean longer design and development time as you try to optimize for devices and still communicate and lead users through an experience as you intended. It may be easier to start from scratch rather than try to make a non-responsive site responsive. At this point, however, it is expected that your website performs in a responsive manner and if it doesn’t, you’re already well behind the curve.

Unlike mobile apps, however, responsive sites are discoverable via search so you’ll be able to be found by those looking for you. You’ll also be able to promote your site to users on any device easier than needing to re-engage users on a mobile app. Responsive means one site to update and maintain but it falls short in taking advantage of a device’s functionality - even if some mobile apps don’t seem to take full advantage of them. Responsive has become yesterday’s standard.

Progressive Web App

Where responsive sites may be yesterday’s standard, creating a single web property (PWA) that takes full advantage of an individual’s device are quickly becoming tomorrow’s.

PWAs enable organizations to provide one consistent user experience, not to mention maintaining only one site for google to index for search. Instead of costly, time-consuming, and intrusive email re-engagement campaigns, PWAs take advantage of push notifications, getting timely information to users without the need to check email. A PWA even provides enhanced functionality on mobile devices (auto form complete, camera use, etc.) making it easier for users to complete actions.

Beyond this, Progressive Web Apps also provide offline mode and a lighter, faster site mean using less data and ease of use for those in low or no connectivity areas. Because of the increase in speed they bring, PWAs can also support higher search engine rankings. All of this in one platform with no need to build for iOS or Android separately.

All in all, PWAs combine the efforts of mobile apps, mobile sites, and responsive sites in one property. They also elevate what your business will be able to do within the context of a user’s device, providing a much more engaging and fast experience for those seeking the quickest solutions on the go. PWAs are a simpler way to engage with one build, one app, showcasing one vision of your brand giving users what they expect.