Chrome Dev Summit Your web apps probably suck, according to Google, but there are solutions if developers get progressive.
Not just because of mediocre coding, legacy baggage, and half-hearted optimization, but also because the mobile ecosystem is full of pitfalls like slow network speeds and underpowered devices.
At the Chrome Dev Summit on Monday, Google returned to its long-running campaign to make web apps suck less, because web technology has finally evolved to the point that web apps can compete with native apps in terms of performance while outdoing them in terms of discovery and distribution.
Such evangelism is necessary because much of the web code out there was written before Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) arrived and companies are still trying to figure out whether they can implement the technology.
In a conversation during the conference, a web consultant from Dallas, Texas, described dealing with web apps served through Java and JSP and talked about PWAs as a pipe dream. A developer with Expedia meanwhile said his firm had been focused on native apps but is now thinking about PWAs.
Native mobile apps for the past few years have been preferred for both technical and business reasons, but lately that's changed, because web technology has matured and because most people are not downloading and installing a lot of native apps anymore.
In the US, more than half of users, by comScore's measure, don't download any apps in a given month. Our phones, in short, are full; but the web has room for everyone.
Proposed in 2015, PWAs describe a set of requirements for web apps that don't suck. Basically, PWAs need to be fast, engaging, and work offline. PWAs don't mandate specific technology – there are many ways to make apps fast and engaging – but for offline functionality, Service Workers, a relatively recent API, are probably involved.
Addy Osmani, a web tooling engineer at Google working with the Chrome team, framed the problem with figures. For 90 per cent of websites on mobile devices, it takes 35 seconds or less before interactivity begins. For 70 per cent, time to interactivity is 22 seconds or less.
According to Google the average time to load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds. So the typical web experience is just too slow, considering that 53 per cent of mobile visits are abandoned after three seconds.
PWAs can help. Google software engineers Ilya Grigorik and Bryan McQuade, described how Pinterest's newly minted mobile web site – a PWA – took time-to-interactivity from 23 seconds for the previous incarnation down to 5.6 seconds.
Pinterest's PWA can begin functioning after transferring 150KB, plus successive loads as needed. Its native apps demand far more resources to get started: 56MB for its iOS app and 9.6MB for its Android app.
Comparing Pinterest's PWA experience to its legacy mobile web site, the value is clear: 40 per cent more time spent, 44 per cent more user-generated ad dollars, 50 per cent more ad click throughs, and 60 per cent more core engagements. ®