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The Future of Apps is the Web: the inside scoop from Google training

By developers 3 years ago

Image Credit: Google

For the past decade, conventional wisdom has stated that Native Apps – those built for a specific platform – are key to the success of any Digital Marketing strategy. In recent years however, there have been significant counter arguments to this premise from those who highlight the major challenges of distribution, acquisition and conversion which are encountered in an over-saturated market, dominated by big players such as Facebook and Apple.

As Technical Lead at Mr B & Friends, it’s my job to stay on top of the big technological changes that will influence the future of Digital and to this end, last month I travelled to Google HQ in London to take part in a training course focusing on the very latest in App technology. In this article I will reveal what I (and Google!) believe to be the future of Apps and how you can take advantage of this in your Digital Marketing.

The Two Main Types of App

In the current App market today, there exists two main type of Apps:

  1. Native Apps
  2. Mobile Web Apps

A Native App is typically:

  • Installed on your device
  • Downloaded from an App Store
  • Written for a specific device/platform
  • Fully integrated with your device

Whereas a Mobile Web App is generally:

  • Effectively a mobile optimised website made to look like an App
  • Accessed directly via a url and viewed in a web browser
  • Compatible with any device/ platform with a browser
  • Typically less “integrated” with your device

An example of a Native App might be the Facebook App, whilst the Financial Times App is a example of a Mobile Web App.


The current state of Apps

So which is the most common type of App? At the time of writing, the top 5 most popular Apps across all platforms are:

  • Facebook
  • Facebook Messenger
  • YouTube
  • Google Maps
  • Gmail

These are all Native Apps and this is reflected in the statistics, which show that 87% of users’ time is spent in Native Apps vs the Mobile Web on a measly 13%.

So does this mean Native is better?

Which is best, Native or Mobile Web?

When comparing the features of Native vs Mobile Web, we can detect some common themes.

For example, Native Apps are seen to:

  • Provide a better Better UX – Native is seemless, smoother and faster. It tends to feels more “integrated”
  • Be More Reliable – Native can gracefully unreliable network conditions and can even work when offline
  • Have better Device Capabilities – Native has greater permission to access the powerful features of your device such as contacts, storage, camera, sensors…etc
  • Improve Re-engagement – notifications, vibration, and the ability to add a icon to your homescreen all contribute to native superior re-enagagement figures (as detailed previously)

That’s an impressive resume! So can web compete?

Mobile Web Apps have:

  • Superior Reach – visitors to mobile websites still far outstrip those to Native Apps. Thus ease of distribution is a key plus point for web
  • Reduced install friction – the url is the killer feature here. When accessing a Mobile Web App there’s no need to install. Just type in a web address and the App loads straight away
  • Easier access – as the Mobile Web (should) work on all devices, it’s much easier for your users to access

Capabilities vs Reach and the Holy Grail

From this it’s clear that native wins on capabilities whilst the mobile web wins on reach. What does this tell us?

Well, what if we were able to achieve the Holy Grail – an App which had the power of Native but combined with the reach and ease of use of the Mobile Web?

Well according to Google, this is achievable today and it’s called the P.W.A.

Ok, so what is a PWA?

PWA stands for:




This is a term coined by Google to describe next generation of mobile web apps which are:

  • Reliable
  • Fast
  • Engaging

The applications are powered by the very latest web techniques and technological solutions including:

  • Service Workers – to network resilience, offline capabilities and more
  • Responsive Design – to enable the app to adapt to the device on which it is being viewed
  • Push Notifications & Background Sync – to enable the app to prompt you even when it is not open (just like a Native App)
  • App Manifest – to allow your device to take it’s place as an icon on your homescreen and to run in full screen without the browser chrome around it

Progressive Web Apps in the Wild – the Financial Times App

To see an example of a Progressive Web App running today, open your favourite mobile device or tablet and visit

This is the Financial Times PWA. You will notice that it:

  • Loads quickly
  • Does not require an initial install to run (works in your browser)
  • Prompts you to “Install” the App to your homescreen

Moreover, turn on airplane mode and go offline to see how the app works seamlessly without an internet connection.

All-in-all it feels very much like a Native App, but with all the benefits of the mobile web.

What are the advantages of Progressive Web Apps?

#1. Reach

We previously saw that the top 5 Apps were all native and that  80% of time is spent in Native Apps. However, this does not take into account that this usage is highly concentrated; a winner-takes-all situation dominated by the big players, leaving little or no room for those with smaller budgets or marketing departments to make an impact

Indeed, research has shown that the average user installs 0 apps per month! Clearly this is does not represent an attractive investment opportunity for businesses with huge investments required to achieve very little impact.

In contrast to this, the Google Chrome mobile browser has over 1 billion users per month. When we review the number of unique visitors to the top 1000 Native Apps .vs. top 1000 Mobile Web Properties, we can clearly see that the reach of the mobile web is nearly 2.5x that of native.

When combined with the engagement benefits of a Progressive Web App, it’s clear that the mobile web has the potential to hugely outperform a Native App in this area.

#2. Acquisition

Native Apps have always suffered from problems with acquiring new users. If you cannot gain new users then you can’t make any money or meet your marketing objectives!

Analysing data from, Google determined that the cost of acquisition was:

  • €4.00 – native android app
  • €0.35 – progressive web app

That makes native over x10 more expensive to acquire a new user than the Mobile Web. But why is this the case?

Experts tend to agree that the biggest barrrier to aquisition with native apps is install friction. This refers to the tension users experience when they are required to install an application before they can use it. The dreaded “install our app” banners that appear across many sites, have been shown to be disasterous for attracting new users.

In contrast, as they are accessible directly via a url in your browser of choice, Progressive Web Apps suffer from almost zero install friction and can seamlessly “onboard” user allowing them to use your app straight away. Clearly then, this is a huge advantage.

#3. Conversion

If you don’t convert your users into customers then your app has failed.

Engagement + Acquisition = Conversions

Google have compiled some excellent case studies to detail the successes many companies have enjoyed since launching their own Progressive Web Apps., one of India’s top startups with over 50 million visitors a year, saw their conversions go up by 38% since the launch of their PWA. Perhaps even more impressively Alibaba, the world’s largest online business-to-business (B2B) trading platform, saw a massive 76% higher conversion rate across all browsers.

Ultimately, it is becoming clear that by combing greater reach and lower cost of acquisition with near-native capabilities, Progressive Web Apps represent a major step forward in the evolution of apps and a huge opportunity for all kinds of businesses who want to connect with their customer base.

If your business is looking to develop a new mobile website, or to create a new app to service your customers then you should consider making a Progressive Web App your vehicle of choice.

To learn more about how Mr B & Friends can help your business develop a Progressive Web App, contact us today.

The Future of Apps is the Web: the inside scoop from Google training

Image Credit: Google For the past decade, conventional wisdom has stated that Native Apps – those built for a specific platform – are key to the success of any Digital Marketing strategy. In recent years however, there have been significant counter arguments to this premise from those who highlight the major challenges of distribution, acquisition…