18th December 2017

Brands transformed through web apps in 2017

Vicky Carmichael
Marketing Manager

In a recent post I offered definitions for some of the most commonly used phrases on the topic of web apps. As 2017 draws to a close, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to look at five notable examples of web apps that launched over the last year, and assess their business impacts.

Twitter Lite

Probably the biggest news from Twitter in 2017 (apart from its ongoing inability to effectively deal with harassment on the platform) was that it increased the tweet limit from 140 to 280 characters. In second place is the intern who deactivated Trump’s account for 11 minutes. Slightly less talked about was the Twitter Lite web app they launched in April, which runs in the browser on any device.

iPhone storage almost full notification

Designed to be 30% faster and more data-friendly, this is a lightweight alternative aimed at those with a poor network connection, or with no memory left to install apps. To save extra data you can opt not to automatically load images and videos. This is a game changer for those on 2G networks – an estimated 45% of global users – where every megabyte counts. 

Releasing this lightweight web app has made Twitter’s service more accessible to emerging markets in Africa, Latin America and Asia. A strategic partnership with Vodafone to promote Twitter’s service has particularly strengthened its position in India and, to serve their growing user base there, Twitter recently launched their curated Moments feature in the region.

Twitter announced in November 2017 that they would be distributing the web app through the Google Play Store in 24 countries including Israel, Brazil and South Africa. The goal of this is undoubtedly to increase visibility of Twitter Lite in these markets, as users can easily install it directly from the browser anyway, but not if they’re unaware that it exists.

Twitter Lite allows you access to all the key Twitter features including direct messaging and, like the native app, you can still pull to refresh tweets for that sweet hit of dopamine.

Google Remote Desktop

Remote access isn’t new. Business users may be familiar with using a VPN (virtual private network) to access the company intranet from outside the office, or having tech support temporarily take over your machine from a remote location to troubleshoot an issue. Cloud-based file hosting services like Dropbox mean many of us can now pick up our work on any internet enabled device anyway, but for those who still rely on their machine’s hard drive to store files, remote access software can be a lifesaver. 

Google has had their own version of this type of software as a Chrome App for a while, but in late 2017 they released the beta of a new purely web-based Chrome Remote Desktop application. It allows users to securely access their computer, or grant someone else access, from a Chrome browser running on any device. 

This is part of a wider strategy on Google’s part over the coming year to deprecate Chrome Apps in favour of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which use open technologies, and are cross-platform and cross-browser. Google is leading the PWA movement, which places the emphasis on delivering a great user experience. This naturally results in more engaged users, so represents a huge opportunity for Google, who make an estimated 90% of their revenue from advertising.

At the time of writing, the Chrome Remote Desktop web app is still in its infancy but is likely to move out of beta soon, and should stand little chance of joining its less fortunate siblings in the graveyard!

Tinder Online

In March 2017, Tinder launched a browser-based version of their hugely popular dating app. It allows users to search for and message potential mates from any internet-enabled device (including their work computer, unless their employer’s firewall has other ideas). It uses similar gestures to the mobile app – drag with your mouse to “swipe” images left or right.

The concept took 6 weeks to develop and a further 3 months to initially launch. The web app delivers the core Tinder experience at around 10% of the data investment it takes to deliver it on the native Android app and, as with Twitter, the developers of the dating app made it clear in their announcement that they had global markets in mind with this move. 

Tinder belongs to Match Group, which owns 45 brands including Match.com, Plenty of Fish, and OKCupid. Match Group’s latest report highlights “fantastic performance at Tinder” and makes it clear that the subsidiary plays a critical role in the parent company’s growth. We can expect to see further investment and innovation at Tinder in 2018, with hints of using AI to deliver increased personalisation in the works.


Multinational retailer Debenhams received a blow in 2017 when a UK Ecommerce Benchmark research report revealed that theirs was one of the worst performing websites among UK retailers. They opted to replace it with a PWA, as part of a wider mobile-centred turnaround strategy. This was not surprising, given that around 50% of online purchases are completed using a mobile device, according to the department store.

This video does a great job of showcasing how much faster it is than the previous solution:

Debenhams have reported “digital sales growth of 12.7% in its latest full year, with mobile accounting for 55% of online orders and smartphone conversion rates lifting by 15%.” The retailer plans to continue to prioritise smartphones as their primary channel for customer engagement in 2018.


The Forbes website – perhaps best known for displaying a full-screen ad before granting a user access to view their news content – doesn’t have a reputation for providing an excellent browsing experience.

Forbes website google search results

But in 2017 – a century after the magazine was founded – the company released a new web app in a bid to change people’s minds. The large-scale project took many months of research and planning, and saw Forbes overhaul their entire content management system and rebuild the site as a PWA.

Medium and blogging sites mean that anyone with an internet connection can publish content. Traditional media and news publications have to work ten times as hard for our attention, and personalisation plays a huge role in this. The web app allows users to specify what topics are important to them, and Forbes to serve them personalised content in 0.8 seconds.

The publisher has reported a 43% increase in sessions per user and, crucially for their bottom line, a 20% increase in the number of ads seen since launching the app.

Web apps + emerging tech = possibilities!  

I wanted to include two bonus examples I spotted this year – not of brands who are transforming their business, but of web apps that apply emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning for innovative and interesting results. Let me know on Twitter if you’ve spotted any other cool examples!


Photerloo is a hashtag tool for Instagram that uses machine learning and AI to generate relevant keywords based on what it identifies in an uploaded image. As with all the apps on this list, it’s used in the browser. You simply upload an image and tweak the settings as you please, then copy your suggested hashtags to the clipboard for easy pasting on mobile. You can try it out on desktop without having to sign up.

Ring and suggested hashtags

While the suggestions aren’t always spot on, they’re relevant enough to be impressive and the app is currently available for free. This is an example of a clever, lightweight app that does one thing and does it well, and I predict we’ll see more of this over the next year.

Santa Tracker from Google

Finishing on a festive note, Google has a running tradition of celebrating the holiday season with online games and quizzes, and Santa Tracker is an advent calendar style app they built with an activity for each day leading up to Christmas. Of course, being a Google project, they’ve opted to build it as a PWA!

There are some really clever uses of technology, most notably this fun (if slightly annoying) Pictionary-inspired Speed Sketch game, where you have to draw simple objects for Tensor the machine learning robot to “guess”. Make sure you have the sound turned on for the full effect.

Santa Tracker screenshot

How was it not able to identify my snowman?! 

While not the most functional web app on our list, this is a great example of a large interactive web app that takes advantage of modern technologies. It supports an offline browsing experience, saves bandwidth by only loading what the user can see, and is fully responsive despite having a complex visual design. For a detailed technical breakdown, read Google’s case study in full.

So are web apps the future?

The trend five years ago was to build a native app for everything, but that bubble has burst. While a 2013 Harvard Business Review article professed that consumers “spend about 82% of their mobile time with apps, compared to just 18% with web browsers”, more recent research reveals that while in-app time is increasing, the number of actual apps used is in decline. In such a competitive market, investing in developing a native app can constitute a significant financial risk. 

Furthermore, it’s about to become increasingly difficult to publish native apps. From January 2018, Apple will begin to clamp down on apps that use templates and app generation software, in an effort to maintain quality levels on the App Store. Given that these are the cheapest methods of producing native apps, it means small businesses will no longer be able to compete. But web apps offer an affordable alternative.

The above are great examples of how you can achieve much of the same functionality without having to ask your users to install anything – and, crucially, without having to spend the huge amounts of time and money you’d need to build for each platform separately. In particular, Progressive Web Apps offer a reliable and performant solution, and one which many large brands are opting for. 

Web app technologies allow businesses to take advantage of modern browsers to pull off impressive features, but the real win for customers is improved performance at a lower data cost. As the examples above show, this opens up exciting opportunities to reach new markets and deliver a more engaging experience, that could have your users sticking around longer and coming back more often. 

Are you looking to transform your business through digital in 2018? Get in touch to find out how we can help.