I teased you with the advantages the web has over native applications, but how do these advantages elevate the web's past native applications?
Let's borrow a demonstration from the Chrome team. An XY graph can show the differences between the web and native applications. The vertical axis represents Capabilities. The x-axis represents Reach. The reach being defined is how easy it is to discover and quickly access the application or website:
For many years, native applications enjoyed a capability advantage. They had tight native platform APIs and hooks that enabled native applications to do things that the web was not designed to do. For example, native push notifications allow brands to send messages to customers without the application being open.
However, apps are gated behind closed App Stores on Apple, Android, and even the Microsoft ecosystem. This makes finding applications very difficult. Many estimates show it takes between $8 and $12 a day to get a single app download.
The web, as I mentioned earlier, simply was not ready for this shift to mobile. There have been several APIs such as geo-location and some web notification capabilities. These APIs are not necessarily on the same level with their native counterparts.
Developers have lacked awareness of many modern APIs. Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge and confidence has caused websites to not take advantage of these capabilities.
Ten years ago, responsive design did not exist. However, today, not only do we have CSS media queries and a vast array of responsive CSS libraries, but we also have responsive images built-in to browsers. Now, websites can offer layouts and download appropriately sized images for all screen sizes without crazy hacks.
Compared to their native counterparts, websites have always been easily discoverable. You can advertise a domain in any media channel and people know how to load it. Search engines are much more sophisticated than App Stores and provide an easy interface to find just about anything. The big advantage search engines have over App Stores is the ability to deeply index web content.
Search engines index pages deep within a website and thousands upon thousands of web pages per site. App stores can only offer a single point of entry to download the app. The only page you have control of is a sales page. In that one page, you need to sell your app without the customer sampling your content and experience. Reach is and has always been the web's greatest superpower:
As the graph visualizes, the web is not only on equal footing with native applications—it exceeds native applications is most cases. Sure, there are still going to be edge cases where a native application is the best choice, but these are shrinking every time a browser adds a new feature.