Mobile applications, often referred to as native applications, have dominated digital development and everyday consumer use for most of the past decade. Digital change is afoot once again, however; and considering some of the disadvantages of mobile apps and the emergence of effective new solutions like PWAs, native applications may have had their day.
The growth of native applications
The first smartphone, IBM’s Simon, was launched in 1994 and shipped with pre-installed applications like Calculator, Mail, and Note Pad. Nokia’s popular Snake game was even an application. Then, the launch of the BlackBerry 5810 heralded in “qwerty” keyboards and the phone enabled wireless email access.
Fast forward to June 2017, when Apple launched its first iPhone which shipped with Maps and Weather applications. By July 2008, Apple’s App Store was live and third-party application development was catapulted to the fore. In 2012 Google amalgamated Android Market, Google Music, and Google Books, into Google Play.
Is mobile application use plateauing?
By 2019, the number of native applications downloaded annually reached 204 billion. But despite the huge volume of downloads, most consumers only use about nine applications per day. And when you look more closely at which applications are really used, it is revealed that as much as 80% of time spent using applications is spent in mobile games or on Facebook or Facebook-owned apps.
The total number of application downloads could be a skewed picture too, as much of this figure could be children downloading games. In fact, adults download as few as one or less applications per month, on average.
A report by B2B Marketing in 2017 found that new mobile application downloads were in decline. Citing Adobe research, it said application downloads had fallen 38% in the US since 2014 and were down 5% in Europe over the same period. TechCrunch in 2018, citing research from Flurry, said that during 2017 the amount of time spent on mobile applications only grew 6% compared to growth of 11% in 2016.
Many statistics point to growing mobile application use, whereas others suggest that their use may be starting to plateau due to the numerous disadvantages of mobile apps. What does seem to be emerging more and more clearly, however, is that despite the popularity of apps, consumers seem unwilling to continually download new and unknown applications. One explanation may be that consumers are getting tired of constantly committing device storage to new applications.
The mobile application market on average is arguably still strong. However, it is dominated by key players like Facebook, Google, and WhatsApp. These app giants aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – but the viability and diversification of the native application market as a whole has stagnated, and for businesses smaller than Facebook, this is a critical fact that cannot be ignored.
A languishing and difficult to penetrate market should be a serious consideration for a business deciding whether to commit time and investment to developing a native application. There are other reasons, too, why native applications might no longer be the perfect solution for customer engagement. Especially now that Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) offer an exciting, cost-effective, and consumer-enticing alternative.
What are some of the biggest disadvantages of mobile apps?
Having said all this, there is a number of reasons why mobile app downloads might have stagnated. Here are some of the biggest disadvantages of mobile apps compared to more modern and efficient solutions like progressive web apps:
1. Mobile apps don’t substitute a website
Native applications have been a fantastic tool for many businesses to engage customers by delivering rewards programs, shopping applications, location finders, and more. Other businesses are fully built around a native application which is core to their business – and this could be a game, a utility, a tool like the ubiquitous Uber, or another form of entertainment. There’s an app for everything.
But, no matter what the use case for a native application, a successful business always needs a website too. So planning, creating, and building, both a website and a mobile application is double the effort. And of course, double the money! Which is one of the disadvantages of mobile apps that not all businesses can afford to overcome.
2. You’ll need Android and iOS applications and listings
Did we say double? Add to that the fact that in order to reach all your potential customers, you will likely need to develop a native application for Android and a separate one for iOS operating systems, unless you take the less-than-optimal hybrid approach. As per Statcounter, Android users account for much of the device market share, between October 2018 and October 2019 this 76.76%, but iOS users are still a significant 22.09%.
3. Update and maintenance efforts are multiplied
There is not only investment into first developing a website or native mobile application. Both also need to be updated regularly and as needed whenever there is a product or service change. Account for Android and iOS updates, and that could be three different developers that need to be tasked with three sets of updates.
Not only that, but application stores take time to re-approve updated applications and for consumers to benefit from an update, they either need to download software updates or re-download a whole application.
4. There is extra Marketing pressure too
One of the disadvantages of mobile apps that many businesses don’t take into account when evaluating their options is the Marketing pressure.
A business’s marketing needs are complicated by the need to drive traffic to both a website and a native application. Even if a company’s primary function, product, or service, is delivered via a mobile application, it still has to utilise, promote, and market via, a website. But, take a retailer who uses a mobile application for rewards.
It could gain half its conversion via a website and half via a mobile application. Such a business needs a marketing strategy and budget that drives traffic to both its website and the application store link where its application is listed.
5. You need a separate URL
Next on our list of disadvantages of mobile apps is the way they are shared and distributed. When it comes to native apps, your Marketing efforts dilute towards multiple locations, which probably include:
- Your website;
- Your app on the Google Play Store;
- And your app on the Apple App Store;
And maybe even more if your app is listed on other app stores outside of the ones mentioned above. This means that you will have to develop a very efficient strategy for each particular channel. In comparison, progressive web apps can be shared with a single URL or a QR code.
6. Native applications don’t help with SEO
Probably one of the biggest disadvantages of mobile apps is that their content is not indexed by search engines. This means that they cannot be optimized for organic traffic – and consequently, users will not be able to find your app via Google or any other engine.
Driving traffic to a mobile application comes from marketing efforts of the application link, and store listings, alone. The other option is to wait for users to find you by searching for a particular app on the app store.
7. Application store listings can be challenging
There are somewhat hidden costs to native application development. To publish an application to Apple’s App Store there is an annual fee, and for Google Play Store a one-off fee. But, it’s not quite that easy to get your application up and running.
Getting an application listed can be a challenging process. There are restrictions on certain types of applications and both Apple App Store and Google Play Store are clamping down on the quality and type of application build.
You could find as well that with the additional costs for developing, publishing, and marketing, you have difficulty getting your application approved, or keeping it live, on one or more of the application stores.
App stores also demand regular software updates but there are long approval processes for updated applications, even if they have been listed before. In fact, a lot of apps can actually suffer app store rejection due to incompliance with laws, regulations, the particular requirements for each app sore, and privacy policies.
You’re also dependent on user reviews. These can be hard to get but good reviews drive the visibility of your app in a store. Bad reviews are another story entirely, and even when these aren’t deserved, they will drive down the visibility of your app in the store.
8. Costs, costs, costs
We’ll reiterate costs here, as there are fees for listing mobile applications, not to mention the initial developments costs and the cost of regular updates. Considering that a native app can cost thousands of dollars, this is probably one of the biggest disadvantages of mobile apps so far.
Application stores also take a percentage commission from sales, of up to 30%. Then there are marketing costs. As native applications cannot be search engine optimised, they are entirely reliant on marketing efforts and customer reviews.
9. Consumers might have trouble finding your application
Sadly, most applications never make their first download. Without downloads, consumer reviews to bump up ratings and positioning aren’t possible, leading to a vicious cycle of no downloads, no reviews, no visibility, and again – no downloads. If marketing efforts fail or there isn’t sufficient budget to drive visitors to an application store link, a new application could be dead in the water.
The following chart illustrates the potential drop out rate, and the point of drop out, of 1,000 consumer clicks that could lead to the download of an application. From a potential 1,000 consumers, only 800 consumers will actually load up the app store, only 640 will successfully find an application, more will drop out at the “Accept Permissions” notification and only 262 out of 1,000 are likely to eventually use an application.
And even once they do find an application, consumers don’t want to, or can’t, give you their device resources.
Many consumers, all over the world, are becoming less inclined to download new applications, preferring instead to conserve their device resources. A Zipwhip 2019 State of Texting Report found that 61% of consumers would not install a new application to communicate with a business.
Though the report focuses on the use of applications for communication its findings are indicative of a growing consumer trend. Zipwhip says a typical consumer struggles with data management and 21% of consumers abandon new applications after a first download. Plus, a massive 77% of consumers never use an application again 72 hours after installing it.
A growing trend in the use of “lite” applications tells a similar story. A report by CNBC illustrates that businesses need to take a less device storage hungry approach to reaching consumers. The report focuses on the 6.47 billion consumers who live in developing countries and who tend to have more basic smartphones and less available connectivity. It details the launch of “lite” mobile applications by Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and other big technology companies. Jun Wen Woo, a senior analyst at IHS Markit says:
“Tech companies are offering Lite apps to tailor their services to data-conscious users. Application store listings are challenging and costly.”
According to Sensor Tower co-founder, Alex Malafeev:
“Lite versions of popular mobile apps should continue to outpace adoption of their fully featured counterparts in developing markets … where constraints on data and a prevalence of lower-end devices are driving their popularity.”
Nicolas Gallagher, Engineering Lead for Twitter Lite, says:
“Twitter Lite is now the fastest, least expensive, and most reliable way to use Twitter. The web App rivals the performance of our native Apps but requires 3% of the device storage space compared to Twitter for Android.”
What are these so-called “Lite applications”? Well, in most cases, they are actually progressive web apps. We’ll tell you more about PWAs below, but one thing to note is that they can take up to 200 times less device storage space than native applications.
PWAs could be the solution you need
To overcome the challenges caused by the disadvantages of mobile apps, you might want to evaluate another solution: progressive web apps.
“Progressive Web Apps are user experiences that have the reach of the web.”
And, PWAs are reliable because they
“load instantly and never show the downasaur, even in uncertain network conditions.”
They are also fast and engaging because they:
“Feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.”
PWAs can provide the same experience as a mobile application, fun and interactive, and still allow application functionality, like push notifications and the ability to browse offline, without many of the costs and drawbacks.
What solutions do PWAs offer for the disadvantages of mobile apps?
You can have one PWA instead of a website and a native application.
PWAs work equally well on desktops as they do on mobile devices, without any need for separate development. They are a one solution fits all approach that delivers mobile application engagement and website functionality.
1. A PWA is automatically compatible with Android and iOS
Your PWA is built in a way, like a website, that works on any device and any operating system, which means that there is no need for two application versions and a website too!
2. Marketing is simplified and less costly
With a single PWA marketing is made much easier, as all of your visitor traffic is channelled to just one location and a single URL. Your visitors can choose how the browse or interact once they arrive.
3. You don’t need a separate URL
As we already mentioned in the previous section, one of the key disadvantages of mobile apps is that hey need separate Marketing strategies to promote each channel and app store. Progressive web apps, however, can be shared, promoted and accessed with one single URL.
4. Progressive web apps can be optimized for SEO
In this respect, PWAs work in exactly the same way as a normal website. They are accessed at your home page and every page of your progressive web app is indexed in the search engines and has its own URL.
You can optimize each page just like you would do it with your regular website. This means that you can actively work towards improving your search engine rankings, and gain more traffic and visibility from Google as your content grows.
5. PWAs are accessed through a browser
Being a website, just with lots more functionality like an application, a PWA is accessible through any browser. They can have an icon and desktop link and be used offline but there is no need for an application store listing or downloading.
This also means that, unlike with native applications, you can direct consumers straight from an email or marketing campaign to any specific page in your PWA. Which is a very efficient solution to one of the key disadvantages of mobile apps – convincing people to download your app.
Progressive web apps don’t need to be downloaded, which means that installing an icon for easy access to the app will take up to 200 times less device space.
In comparison, of the disadvantages of mobile apps is that they need to be downloaded on the electronic device, taking up valuable space for the user. PWAs don’t need to be downloaded at all. Data from a PWA is cached but this takes much less space and doesn’t need a whole downloading process from an application store.
Caching takes place in the background, and means even fast loading of a PWA site the next time around. When progressive web app content is updated, the cache is also updated quickly, and simply, in the background.
6. A Beezer PWA is an even better solution!
Here at Beezer, you can build your PWA simply and cheaply without any prior technical knowledge. You don’t need a developer. Beezer is a drag and drop PWA builder for creating PWAs without massive design, development, and maintenance costs. And updating your Beezer PWA is instantaneous and unlimited!
There is no need for an application store listing, so you’ll avoid the hassle, costs, and commission fees. You get all the features of a standard PWA and the functionality of a native application as well as full analytics so you can manage your PWA and its content accordingly.
Native applications vs PWAs – The verdict
Native application development and use has rapidly grown and has dominated brand marketing efforts for some years. Once again, though, the web and our digital habits are evolving, and some of the disadvantages of mobile apps have been resolved through modern solutions. It’s no longer exciting to have ton of applications on your smartphone, and in your hand. We still want interactivity and ease of use, but we no longer want clutter or the hassle.
The services we want to use need to be quickly at our fingers, but out of our way when we don’t need them. PWAs offer consumers the captivity and functionality of an application with the ease of a website. For businesses, developing, managing, maintaining, and marketing, one PWA instead of numerous costly channels is a far more efficient and effective investment.
Thank you for taking the time to read our article on the biggest disadvantages of mobile apps, and we hope to see you in the next one! In case you have any questions concerning the different types of app development and progressive web apps in particular, you can also get in touch with us so we can answer your questions.