Apps, Web Apps, Mobile Apps, Natives, so many Apps!
Start-ups and small companies usually face the same challenges; Creating a digital solution to solve a problem in the market. However, when accomplishing the business plan, the entrepreneurs face the operative challenge of developing a digital product.
But how does one sensibly begin planning for such a product? Buzzwords like Cloud-Native, Serverless, App Stores, Microservices, and DevOps seem to overwhelm smaller companies real quick; how to put those Buzzwords into context, and what do I as an SME need to develop and ship an app?
What is the actual product? As long as a user shall use it someday, the virtual product is an app or, technically speaking, a frontend; On nothing else should be the focus at the beginning of the development of a product by a small company or a Start-Up. Here is why:
The Web App is what the customer will hold in their hands.
It is as simple as a hundred years ago; the right product convinces the client or investor to see and feel it accordingly. A product can be an app or a website, which the customer can use as a “physical” part of a virtual world. But, conversely, it is of secondary importance whether the product is hosted in the cloud or in which architecture the developer built the backend. At least for the first few steps.
So to create a purely digital product, we need a frontend, which can be an iOS or Android app, but it can also be a modern website, or both at the same time in the form of a Progressive-Web-App (PWA). I advise you to consider the last-mentioned way because a small-to-medium-sized company or start-up will get the most out of its budget and save time.
Why a PWA is an essential key technology for start-ups and SMEs
Conclusion: a company needs to create a product that can solve the market problem and thus is attractive and has the chance to meet acceptance. But the product must also be discoverable and accessible. For example, a native app is only available in the app stores and under constant competition with other participants, and will eventually get lost in the crowd. On the other hand, a classic website often does not meet the modern demand to be permanently present for the consumer. Moreover, developing both in parallel can quickly become very expensive or impossible.
Here, the PWA stands out from the best of both worlds and thus occupies the “best-of-breed” position. For example, push notifications, offline capability, and the ability to install on mobile devices have been standard features on modern browsers for several years now and are thus also a component of a progressive web app. As a result, the user will not see or feel any difference between a native app or a PWA these days.
Start-ups and companies have to budget and deliver
A young company usually has little time and space for experimentation. Decisions must be seated and made. They must pursue a goal-focused objective and not waste valuable resources developing different variants of their not-yet-existing product. There is often only enough for a Minimum Viable Product, which should work out straight if possible. Large investment-driven companies may throw many MVPs on the market and try until one works, but a small or start-up company does not have this luxury. There’s only one shot, and one should make this one count.
I highly recommend that Start-Ups stay with only one cross-platform project and combine the app world with the world of the web. Do not stress your limited resources too much when you are not in a specific need. There’s a great you don’t need to do this anymore.
Future-Proof technology and a first-class citizen in modern web architectures
A PWA is a standalone and decoupled frontend; it exists independently and installs itself on the device by the first visit already. When speaking of the backend, it’s crucial to understand that modern web solutions are compositions of services like Microservices or SaaS cloud solutions. Therefore, composing headless services requires standalone frontends like PWAs communicating with the APIs.
I don’t want to get too much into technical details about the backend architecture in this article. But I want to point out that a PWA isn’t bound to any specific type of backend or SaaS; thus, the application can exist with any technical foundation the company will use in the future.
The example user experience of a cross-platform Web App in production in a B2B area
In 2020 we started to work on a business app for a German company in the property market. Before we released, the agents created reports by pen & paper, which was time-consuming and inefficient.
The Web App was announced as a mobile app, available via an URL-Link. However, the users were skeptical and treated this website as if it would be only “app-like” initially. But after a short while, it transitioned into absolute positive feedback. And here is why:
The users could use the app in the field with their mobile phones or tablet devices completely reliable without a steady internet connection. The results were automatically synchronized with the same app on the desktop PC or Mac when agents finished their tasks at the property. When the agents were planning their day or week, they used the Web App on the desktop PC to get the best overview, and in the field, everything was in place already.
The value here is that we only created ONE application for all major platforms. That approach provided the same user experience without maintaining many codebases as a developer or forcing the users to handle several apps to get their tasks planned, organized, and executed.
Conclusion: Why I recommend taking a serious look into Progressive-Web-Apps
A PWA is a great mix for most businesses in terms of features, discoverability, and budget. In my experience, the effective costs are often below 50% of the costs for developing native apps for each platform, not yet to mention the web version, which is usually required.
Instead of talking about 2–3 sub-products, a PWA can cover all requirements at the same time, unified in one platform and codebase.
Of course, native apps might outperform PWAs these days regarding pure performance and edge features, but this advantage decreases monthly. This disadvantage won’t exist forever because modern native web technologies evolve faster than ever.
Fortunately, Safari has announced long-missing features like push notifications and released the Filesystem API at the beginning of 2022. You can read about it in this post. In addition, the Fugu-Tracker is a community project which monitors the progress of current web technologies, which are the basis for PWAs.