Progressive Web Apps for Cruise Lines (Part 2 of 2)

If you haven’t read the first part of the article and want to learn more about the basics of PWAs, you can read part one here.

The problem for PWAs and cruise ships

Not everything is bright for the future of PWAs, especially in certain markets. There are some real challenges that we should take an honest look at when asking if PWAs will be a silver bullet for the cruise industry.

Adoption

The biggest issue for me is user adoption and education. Outside of Gartner readers and tech nerds, “PWA” is not a term with which most people are familiar. Installing them is often difficult to describe, completely different across browsers and platforms, and even on supported devices it can be hard to figure out how to install it. This could all change, however, if we all agreed on a better, more user-marketing name, and companies like Apple and Google made it more obvious how to install them. 

State management

PWAs use large cache systems to maintain their appness. Storing data this way, and then trying to manage that data while passing messages to and from the server to determine what needs to be updated is a non-trivial engineering problem. This can be tricky with purpose-built apps, but it becomes even more complicated with PWAs. Adding to the data management issue is a distinct lack of tooling and libraries to manage state issues. Native apps have had ten years to build tools to help out here, but PWAs are still very new. 

Integration with “cool tech”

A lot of onboard cruise apps are being pushed as far as technology can take them. This is perfectly in line with the cruise industry’s focus on technology as a competitive advantage. We want our devices to be able to help guide us around a ship or to allow a waiter to find us out by the pool to deliver that tasty cocktail. The problem with this is that most of these technologies are based on lower levels of access to the operating system. For example, Bluetooth access for PWAs is not supported yet across all browsers (Safari being a notable stand out). This will change over time, but that means adoption and quality are issues that will need some catching up.

The real value of long-term ROI

One of the biggest arguments in favor of PWAs (and one I agree with) is that the cost of ownership is drastically reduced. But the cost of producing and maintaining any app is fairly high, especially when things get complicated. The thing with cruise apps, however, is that most of the good technology is behind the scenes. For example, we maintain a pretty huge cruise app for both Android and iOS, with tens of thousands of downloads, and we only have one full-time developer on it. This is because most of what the app does is communicated with the shipboard and shoreside integration systems — which is where all of the heavy lifting is done. So from a strategy standpoint, there might be limited arguments about how PWAs may be cheaper to own and operate.

Using phone on cruise

Technological challenges

Peter McLachlan the Chief Product Officer at Mobify wrote a really good technological review of PWAs and their shortcomings. Mobify were the platform of choice for Carnival Australia’s booking PWA (which has had limited success). You can read it here.

Conclusions

PWAs are a really great technology, especially for developers. I’m probably the worst programmer in our entire company, and I was able to build one in just a few hours. There are a whole bunch of reasons why a cruise line would want to adopt PWAs, especially if the requirements of the application aren’t too intense. But if you are looking to have a full augmented reality experience where the passenger can see through walls, or have the guest be able to open their cabin door with their device, then PWAs are still a few years away from that type of power. The biggest issue is going to be education and adoption. Telling a guest to “download our app so that you can make dining reservations from anywhere onboard” is all you need to do — they’ll figure out the rest. Telling a guest that you “have a PWA enabled onboard portal” is a little more of a stretch.