Tags: virgin

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Altering expectations

Luke has written up the selection process he went through when Clearleft was designing the Virgin Holidays app. When it comes to deploying on mobile, there were three options:

  1. Native apps
  2. A progressive web app
  3. A hybrid app

The Virgin Holidays team went with that third option.

Now, it will come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of the second option: building a progressive web app (or turning an existing site into a progressive web app). I think a progressive web app is a great solution for travel apps, and the use-case that Luke describes sounds perfect:

Easy access to resort staff and holiday details that could be viewed offline to help as many customers as possible travel without stress and enjoy a fantastic holiday

Luke explains why they choice not to go with a progressive web app.

The current level of support and leap in understanding meant we’d risk alienating many of our customers.

The issue of support is one that is largely fixed at this point. When Clearleft was working on the Virgin Holidays app, service workers hadn’t landed in iOS. Hence, the risk of alienating a lot of customers. But now that Mobile Safari has offline capabilities, that’s no longer a problem.

But it’s the second reason that’s trickier:

Simply put, customers already expected to find us in the App Store and are familiar with what apps can historically offer over websites.

I think this is the biggest challenge facing progressive web apps: battling expectations.

For over a decade, people have formed ideas about what to expect from the web and what to expect from native. From a technical perspective, native and web have become closer and closer in capabilities. But people’s expectations move slower than technological changes.

First of all, there’s the whole issue of discovery: will people understand that they can “install” a website and expect it to behave exactly like a native app? This is where install prompts and ambient badging come in. I think ambient badging is the way to go, but it’s still a tricky concept to explain to people.

But there’s another way of looking at the current situation. Instead of seeing people’s expectations as a negative factor, maybe it’s an opportunity. There’s an opportunity right now for companies to be as groundbreaking and trendsetting as Wired.com when it switched to CSS for layout, or The Boston Globe when it launched its responsive site.

It makes for a great story. Just look at the Pinterest progressive web app for an example (skip to the end to get to the numbers):

Weekly active users on mobile web have increased 103 percent year-over-year overall, with a 156 percent increase in Brazil and 312 percent increase in India. On the engagement side, session length increased by 296 percent, the number of Pins seen increased by 401 percent and people were 295 percent more likely to save a Pin to a board. Those are amazing in and of themselves, but the growth front is where things really shined. Logins increased by 370 percent and new signups increased by 843 percent year-over-year. Since we shipped the new experience, mobile web has become the top platform for new signups. And for fun, in less than 6 months since fully shipping, we already have 800 thousand weekly users using our PWA like a native app (from their homescreen).

Now admittedly their previous mobile web experience was a dreadful doorslam, but still, those are some amazing statistics!

Maybe we’re underestimating the malleability of people’s expectations when it comes to the web on mobile. Perhaps the inertia we think we’re battling against isn’t such a problem as long as we give people a fast, reliable, engaging experience.

If you build that, they will come.

August in America, day three

It was a beautiful day today but I spent most of it indoors. Today was the first day of An Event Apart DC here in Alexandria. As usual, the standard of talks was ludicrously high.

An Event Apart often feels like getting a snapshot of the current state of web technologies and best practices. I really like it when themes emerge from multiple talks—those emergent themes are usually the hot topics of modern web design and development. Today I felt like there were two prominent themes:

  1. process and
  2. devices.

Both Samantha and Jason talked about process and workflow from different perspectives. I had seen Jason’s talk at New Adventures in Nottingham but he’s such a joy to listen to, I gladly soaked it up again. Listening to Samantha reinforced my opinion that she’s one of the smartest designers working today. I found myself nodding my head enthusiastically during both talks.

Luke and Grigs both showed us what an amazingly diverse set of devices we have to deal with these days. I know that some people find this situation depressing, but I find it quite energising. Let’s face it, the web was getting pretty boring there for a while a few years back. You certainly can’t say that about the current browser/device landscape.

Rounded out with Jeffrey and Karen’s content-focused calls-to-arms—one at the start of the day and the other at the end—it was a great day one.

I’m speaking first thing tomorrow. That’s right; I’ve got the hangover slot.

This is a brand new untested talk. I had planned to give a run-through to the guys at Clearleft but somehow that never happened, so tomorrow will literally be the very first time I’m giving this talk. That gives it a certain frisson and adds an air of excitement and tension. It also means I’m very, very nervous.

I think it’s a good talk …but I’m not sure how it’s going to go down with this crowd. While it will have some practical tips scattered throughout, it’s mostly going to be a fairly personal talk about a personal project that I’m using as a lens to look at long-term web design and development. That might put some people off, who would rightly argue that it isn’t directly applicable to their day-to-day work, but I’m just going to have to accept that. It’s going to be interesting to see what people make of it.

I’m excited and nervous. I probably won’t get much sleep tonight.

August in America, day one

It’s Pride weekend in Brighton but alas, I wasn’t able to stick around for the festivities. I made my way to Heathrow for the flight to Washington to kick off my American trip.

The flight from Heathrow to Dulles takes just about eight hours. The average in-flight film is just under two hours, so you might think that this would be a four-film flight. But when you factor in the take-off and landing phases, it’s actually more like three films with a little bit of TV to top it off.

I have some ideas about what makes a good airplane movie. You don’t want to watch anything that’s too good; you’ll just be annoyed that you saw it on a little screen on an airplane seat instead of on a big screen in a cinema. But you don’t want to watch anything that’s too crap because, well, it’s crap. So what you want is a down-the-middle three-star pleasingly mediocre movie.

I watched Oblivion, Iron Man Three, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Pretty good airplane films, all around. Actually, I ended up enjoying Oblivion far more than I was expecting (probably because my expectations had been quite low).

With the flight time whiled away nicely, Jessica and I arrived into Dulles at six in the evening, and what a nice warm evening it was too.

The lovely people running An Event Apart really know how to take care of their speakers and that includes a car service to pick us up at the airport and take us to the hotel. That makes such a big difference after a long transatlantic flight.

In this case, the ride from the airport to the hotel was a fairly lengthy one: Dulles is a good forty minutes away from Alexandria. So we settled in and enjoyed the scenery …what there was of it. The route was mostly filled with “nothing to see here” buildings. I’m guessing that Virginia has more than its fair share of windowless bunker-like buildings—this is, after all, the Lothlorien of the internet in America, where the backbone meets the server farms. Looking for “The Cloud”? It’s probably somewhere in Virginia.

As we’re being driven to our destination, I turn to Jessica and I say:

Chicken wings.

You have to understand, I have this weird travel-triggered craving. Whenever I fly to the United States of America, I get the urge to have my first meal on American soil be …yes, you guessed it, chicken wings. I have no idea why this is or when it started. And it’s not like I usually crave chicken wings all that often (not that I’d be able to get proper Buffalo style wings in the UK anyway).

Once we’re settled into our hotel room, we do a little bit of research and start walking the streets of Old Town Alexandria in search of the Hard Times Cafe. We find it. We get a table. We get some beers. I get my wings. They taste good. They taste really, really good.

I should have just left it at chicken wings, but they specialise in chili. I couldn’t resist.

So now I’m back at the hotel, and I’m stuffed full of beer, chicken wings, and chili. This strikes me as an eminently suitable way to begin my American sojourn.