“Does it come as an app?” and why that’s not the right question to ask

Rob Simmonds
Rob Simmonds

Being cross-sector at Engage, we’re lucky enough to speak to a large mix of clients looking to provide online services to their customers.  Whether this is a housing association, block management, an estate agency, Build to Rent, or PRS; there’s always a common theme and that’s to deliver the best customer experience that they can.

Ten years ago, Apple launched the very first iPhone and catapulted smartphones into the mainstream.  The way we access the internet has changed and these devices have become intrinsically linked into our day to day lives by all ages.  Pair this with the rapid expansion of technology within the property sector and it inevitably leads to one question when speaking to clients about Engage: “Does it come as an app?”

The short answer is “Yes!” ….

but it’s not the question you should be asking.

These days, users want fast access, a great user experience, and convenience.  You can get apps for your bank, apps to monitor health, even apps to tell you when to drink water.  These apps are great and are well designed but most importantly they are fit for purpose as they are self-contained.  On the other hand, there are some apps that are gimmicks, provide a subpar user experience, or they take up far too much space and usually get deleted very quickly!

A gimmick app cannot be the result if you’re looking to deliver the ultimate customer experience.

For most people, the question “Is it an app?” means:

  1. Can our customers install it on their phone?
  2. Can they download it from the App Store?

Rather than the questions they should be asking, such as:

  1. Can our customers get access to all their data quickly and securely?
  2. Do our customers get any additional value out of our app?
  3. Can our customers upgrade their phones and still get the access they need?
  4. Am I prepared to put in significant money for high development costs and support costs for the future?

If the answer to any of the above 4 questions is “No”, then your app is likely to be installed, tried, and deleted before you can say “Steve Jobs”!

There are different types of apps

Native Apps: Traditional ‘native apps’ are what we usually think of when thinking of ‘an app’.  You download them from the app store or Google Play onto your smartphone. They deliver rich experiences and high performance, but at a cost of storage space, lack of real-time updates, cost of development, cost of ongoing support, and low search engine visibility.

Web Apps: ‘Web apps’ are what you may have experienced when going to a mobile website through your internet browser.  These are optimised for the user experience regardless which phone model they are using but you can’t download them from iTunes or the Play store, and you can’t use advanced app features such as notifications.

Both have pros and cons, and what might be suitable for one app, is not suitable for another.

A quick search on the Google Play store for Housing apps show companies who have chosen the wrong solution rather than looking at the problem they are trying to solve.  The result?  Poor reviews, badly designed and out-of-date applications, low uptake, and frustrated customers.

So, what’s the answer?  How can we deliver the best customer experience?

Introducing the “Progressive Web App”

Here at Engage, we’ve been monitoring the technology very closely and are very excited about the development of ‘Progressive Web Apps’ (or PWAs for short) and the capability that they can bring.  PWAs provide native-app qualities in web applications that are reliable, fast, and engaging for your customers.

PWAs are Google-backed and allow developers to build mobile sites that load quickly like a native app.  They allow offline access to cached content, connect securely, allow native app user interfaces (think swiping, zooming etc), and are not device specific so no lengthy or costly redeployments when new hardware or software is released.

Most importantly for PWAs though are the use of Service Workers which enable applications to be, not just ‘mobile-first’, but ‘offline-first’.

It also provides the starting point for features such as on-screen notifications, push notifications, background synchronising, and user interaction messaging.  A PWA can access your phone, your contacts, your calendar, and your location to give you a rich experience.

In a nutshell, a Progressive Web App can do everything a native app can do without the downsides.

The proof?

  • Forbes report a 43% increase in user sessions with their PWA
  • Lancome has a 53% increase in mobile sessions with a 17% increase in conversions
  • Twitter Lite has a 65% increase in pages per session and a 75% increase in Tweets sent
  • BookMyShow, India’s largest ticketing firm with 50+ million monthly visitors, delivered an 80% increase in conversions, which means more users purchasing tickets

So, in summary, the question “Does it come as an app?” can be switched to better questions such as “What app type is better suited for my customers? A native app or a progressive web app?”.

We think that most will say the latter.

Rob Simmonds

Technical Manager

Self-service Services Community Professional services