Let me just surprise you today by saying you have probably used Progressive Web Apps before, you just didn’t know it, but wait all good stories start with a back story. A prologue to a book, a prelude to an album. You get the essence.
Rewind a few years back to 2015, a time where Tesla rolled out its first semi-autonomous cars and Apple released its first-ever Apple Watch. I know it feels like a really long time ago right? Around the same time in Google’s labs was the birthing of PWAs and the term itself. Little did they know that this would be a revolutionary way of rethinking websites.
Progressive Web Apps Defined
Have you ever visited a website on your mobile phone and seen a usually annoying pop-up banner written: “Add to home screen?” If you were daring enough to click yes to at least one of these offers, then congratulations! You have actually installed and used a PWA before. For those who haven’t, the “app” then installs and before you know it is sitting on your home screen without ever the need of visiting the app store. Pretty neat huh?
It sounds simple but like all things in tech, there is a lot of technicality behind the scenes. What does it really mean for a web app to be progressive? Let us take an in-depth and technical look at what they are, why they are essential, their components and finally a few examples to close it all off.
PWA stands in short for Progressive Web Apps. Despite them being introduced a while ago, they are still fairly new kids on the block. PWAs link properties from websites whilst also morphing features from native mobile apps. This allows for the application to be detached from its operating system, functioning as a website and application at the same time. The whole vision is to have the same user experience that is just as smooth as a native mobile app.
Why Use Progressive Web Apps
- Speed: PWAs are the undisputed champion when it comes to consistently fast responses. When the PWA is downloaded it is much smaller than native apps and data is cached which means the application can start without even contacting the internet. This cuts down the time a native app would take dramatically to open and start functioning by over 50%
- Integrated user experience: They perform exactly like the way a native app works. The experience they offer is again exactly the same in that:
- They send push notifications
- They appear on the home screen
- They have access to device functionalities (i.e. camera, microphone, location)
- Reliable: Even when networks fail, PWAs are still able to reliably put information on a screen which you would rather wait ten seconds for on a normal application. This is made possible by the assistance of service workers. (They can actually work offline)
- Engaging: Thanks to the ability to receive notifications which allow constant communication between app and user, engagement levels on PWAs become seamless and unparalleled.
Limitations of Progressive Web Apps
Like all things, Progressive Web Apps have a flip side, even though they may not be as convincing. It has its limitations first being that it doesn’t support smooth sailing when it comes to cross-platform capabilities. In layman’s terms, something that may function in Google Chrome may not be supported by a different framework like Safari since it all depends solely on the browser’s capabilities.
These browsers, unfortunately, do not have as many permissions as native apps do – I mean web browsers only got the permission to scan fingerprints not so long ago but for native apps, it has been there since around 2011. This shouldn’t however be such a big issue.
The last notable limitation is that offline support is not as good as it sounds. However, this goes with how it is with native apps so it isn’t such a big deal.
So, in my own conclusion, I feel as if Progressive Web Apps are surely one to look out for in the future. They are too good not to. For now, native apps seem to have an edge, but if Melsoft continues working on developing PWAs, the edge may shift sooner rather than later.