Expert Opinions: What does the future look like for Native apps vs. PWAs?

Infragistics Team / Tuesday, January 30, 2018

We’re really excited about the growth of the modern web in 2018, and our SVP of Developer Tools, Jason Beres recently had a chance to sit down with Stephen Fluin, Developer Advocate on the Angular team at Google.  We have three parts of the conversation, this post on the future of Native apps vs. PWAs, one on Server Side Rendering, and a third with the Angular team’s advice for Enterprise Developers. 

Jason Beres: One of the things I'm really interested in, and I think our customers are as well, is progressive web apps. I want to get your opinion on where you see progressive web apps going. Do you have an opinion on Native versus progressive web apps?

Stephen Fluin: Sure. So where are progressive web apps going? I would say that they are going to continue to evolve and allow us to build better experiences with the web technologies that we know and have today.

So, if I think back three or four years ago, progressive web apps didn't exist. A lot of the API's that we rely on now for building engaging web applications didn't exist so you had to build a Native application. I was in consulting at the time and I met with companies over and over saying, "Build a native home bot. Build a native home bot." Have a team for Objective-C. Have a team for Java. This is the way you should go.

But the web has done a lot of catching up with the Native mobile experiences, so the situation has changed. First, we now have a bunch of the API's so I buy us things like progressive web apps and service worker. I can build an offline web experience using web technologies, but also from the perspective that all of the kind of intermediate layers that exist for translating between a web developer's Native JavaScript in HTML and these sorts of things, and interfacing with Native device capabilities, they've gotten better at that process as well.

It used to be that they were always two years behind in terms of catching up. They're still behind in terms of their ability to fill and provide all of these kinds of modern, new capabilities that come out with the Native platforms, but they're much better at it now. They have a process down, they have a system, they have teams of people working on these things. 

It's both evolving from the perspective of pure web, and the platform itself is getting richer. We have lots of new API's for payment request, for engaging with the camera and recording audio and video, things like that. But even if you do need the most advanced API's to take full advantage of these mobile platforms, you can do that with web technologies.

Beres: If you fast forward three to five years, how does an individual's behavior change where they would expect it from their progressive web app versus having to go to an app store? If they find a merchant's app, like you did the shoe store in your keynote or the retail merchant, and I can do a lot through their site, I don't need their app.

I don't need to go to the iOS app store and download something. How do you see the future?

Fluin: I definitely see a convergence in terms of the way that people find apps and the way that people find websites where there's kind of value to both.

So when I find things on the web it can be very transactional, right? I'm not making a commitment to the website I visit.

I can browse them, they don't necessarily have all my information, I'm not giving up anything about my device to work with them. That's a huge way that I think we see apps becoming more like Android's Instant apps. Now I can take advantage of Android app features right away, but at the same time, we see that things are going kind of the other way where I want to have a long-term relationship using these web technologies. So I see conversions.

There's also a huge amount of value to the app store and Google Play, whereby having a curated marketplace with standardized reviews, standardized kind of permission system, I trust those places in a way that I don't, there's not a network of trust that has been yet established for the web. We get that implicit network of trust from things like social media and from friend recommendations, from search in general.

But they're not as well developed. They're not as formal.

Beres: That's interesting. You're right on there.

So then how does the, does progressive web apps potentially play into the Android instant app concept? Is it similar, the same? Would you be able to take a progressive web app and make it an instant app and put it in a store?

Fluin: I'm not as familiar with this, but at Chrome Dev Summit recently, the Chrome team actually announced a set of new capabilities for building mobile applications where now you can more seamlessly handoff between the web layer and the native layer and really unify these two code bases. I think that's a really exciting technology as well.

Beres: The conversions will happen probably organically. Mostly to what you were saying in your consulting days, there's not, the budgets aren't there anymore in the enterprise or in the small business to have different teams working on different platforms that are unique, so you need technology that's going to help you get some bit of scale, economies of scale for the apps that you're building.

Fluin:  Sure. And there's always going to be use cases for, “I do need to build a native application for every platform I want to target,” right?

Including kind of more interesting ones like Assistance for example. I think that the web, in general, is getting better at all those things and so the kind of business opportunity cost of not having those is decreasing.

Beres: Yeah, the user experience of the progressive web apps I've seen is really, really good.

So when the argument around, well we want this type of UX so we're going to go native, that argument gets less and less critical now because with the web you can mimic that experience really well with the PWA.

Fluin: Absolutely. We've seen with the ride-hailing services, Uber and Lyft, you see this with Twitter. We're seeing tons of PWA's. There's a really cool URL that I point a lot of people to, which is Chrome://serviceworker-internals.

If you type that URL into your browser, what you get is an internal kind of Chrome debugging report that shows you every PWA that you've visited. A lot of people are kind of shocked at how many there are. Sites that they browse every day are starting to add more and more of these PWA features without the user ever needing to make a conscious decision to do that.

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We’d like to thank Stephen Fluin for his time in this interview, and invite you to check out more of what he has to say over at the Angular Blog. To learn more about Infragistics’ support for Angular, check out our Ignite UI for Angular page, and watch this space for the rest of the conversation.