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SME '17: Why You Need a Progressive Web App
Progressive web apps combine the engagement of native apps with the discoverability, shareability, and flexibility of browser-based content, including fast video playback

We all know that the mobile web is already popular, and only gaining ground. In late 2016, media outlets proclaimed that for the first time in history more users had accessed the web via a mobile device than on their desktops (or laptops). While the mobile web is good at content discovery, and moving increasingly huge numbers of users through the web, it hasn’t been particularly good at engagement. Native mobile apps still reign supreme when it comes to engagement. This is why Husain Bengali, product manager, Chrome Media at Google, says his team is focusing on progressive web apps (PWA).

What is a Progressive Web App?

During his "Progressive Web/Media Apps and Their Impact on Mobile Media Distribution" presentation at Streaming Media East 2017, Bengali said that PWAs bring together the best of native apps with the benefits of the mobile web. And what exactly are the benefits of the mobile web? For starters, it’s much more cost effective than building a native app. But up until now it was missing three major features that help drive engagement:

  • The ability to add to/launch from the home screen
  • Reliable performance whether or not you’re online
  • Push notifications

Progressive web apps are changing all of that, and Google is leading the charge. To users, a PWA looks and acts just like a native app—it even appears as its own task when you switch between tasks on your smartphone or tablet—but has the added benefit of being discoverable, independent of connectivity, easily shareable via URL, and more.

But what makes these apps "progressive?" Bengali says they "degrade gracefully," which means if a user is running an old version of a browser without the capabilities to run your fully functioning app, it will adjust. Instead of leaving your user with a "broken experience" a PWA will simply offer the functioning elements of your experience to users, while omitting the ones that don’t work on that browser.

PWAs for Video

Bengali says PWAs offer some very specific benefit for video on the web:

  • Fast playback
  • Watch anywhere
  • Great UX
  • Full-screen video

The use of "service workers"—client side proxy written in JavaScript—enables faster video plays. These service workers decide if content needs to be cached, and enables instant video starts for the users. The ability to download content means users can still watch offline, and intuitive UX features—like automatically enabling full screen viewing when a user tilts her device to landscape mode—create a better overall experience.

PWAs in Action

Like any new technology, progressive web apps are still proving their value, but Bengali did have some numbers to back up the claims about PWAs. Voot is a media company in India, owned by Viacom, and it has already embraced the PWA. Bengali shared some figures from Voot:

  • 80% drop is page load times
  • 19% decrease in bounce rate
  • 86% decrease in data transfer for repeat visitors
  • 77% increase in conversions from visitors to video viewers
  • 39% increase in session time per user

When you consider that a PWA costs a fraction of what a native app does, these numbers may be even more enticing. Going forward, PWAs will have to be a part of every conversation a company has about mobile strategy.