05 Mar 2018

Finally, the wait is over. After years of watching businesses pour money into mobile apps that never really took off, a bridge has been built between the mobile website and the mobile application.

In this article, you can find out what progressive web apps are, why you would need them, how they work and more importantly, how you can implement them.

What are progressive web apps?

Before answering that question, let's take a moment to think about conventional mobile apps. Why would anyone want to create a mobile app in the first place when they cost so much to develop and maintain. There is the hassle of app store deployment and the inevitable realisation that most apps are not really wanted?

Here are some reasons why businesses have, in the past, wanted a mobile app:

  • It puts a nice icon on the home screen.
  • Bits of it can work offline.
  • It's faster and better for the user.
  • It can receive push notifications.
  • Apps can integrate with device hardware such as the camera.
  • It looks like an app, not a website.

So, in theory, if a conventional mobile website could check those boxes, there would be no need for a costly, high maintenance mobile app? Now, a mobile website can check all of those boxes, if it is a progressive web app.

There will still always be a place for conventional apps. Progressive web apps use a web browser, which itself is an app. Games will always be mobile apps and so will other device -reliant applications.

For the most part though, if you need to give your audience access to information, the ability to buy your products or communicate with each other, progressive web apps are the future.

How do progressive web apps work?

The key to their abilities are Service Workers. These are the functions that differentiate your PWA from a conventional web site. Service workers are registered and saved by your browser on first use and can operate as background services even if the browser is closed.
This is what makes push notifications possible with PWAs.

Service workers can be used to store website data or other content on your phone, and synchronise it if required. This can be leveraged to provide better performance and offline functionality. Also, service workers can be used to access the phone device hardware such as the camera or accelerometer.

Another small, but significant piece of the puzzle, is the manifest. This is a file which tells the browser about your PWA and contains some instructions on where to find the icons that will be saved to the phone, how to style the browser and where to find the splash page which displays on initial start up.

How do people get your progressive web apps?

One of the major benefits is that there is no need to release your progressive web app to an 'App store'.

You may have noticed that on some mobile websites, a banner is displayed, telling the user an app is available in the app store - giving the user a link to the app listing.
With PWAs, a similar banner is displayed, asking the user to save this website to their home screen. When the user agrees, all of the service workers are downloaded and registered and the website is transformed into an app.

Why has it taken so long?

PWA's have been available for the past eighteen months, but not universally. Without naming names, the delays have been caused by Apple. They have held everything up until now and without being able to implement on iPhones or iPads, there hasn't been any great clamour to grab a half baked solution.

What are the next steps?

If you already have a responsive website then you are only a few steps away from making the transition to a progressive web app.
It may be worthwhile though, taking the opportunity to re-imagine your website and what it could do for your audience, given the new potential that has just been made available.

Contact us to see how we can help.

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