The way software developers think of using, designing, and developing apps is taking a surprise turn. Just about everyone using technology uses apps, whether they’re checking up on their email, grabbing a ride to the grocery store, chatting with friends online, or checking the weather before heading out for the day. Needless to say, apps are great and they’re helpful. But they’re still headed for a change, and we’re here to tell you how.
What are Progressive Web Apps?
Software engineers Alex Russell and Frances Berriman are the two responsible for coining the term “progressive web app” (PWA). According to Russell, a PAW is just a website “that took all the right vitamins.”
Before we can explain what that means exactly, let’s sidestep for a moment and talk about regular apps. They’re the ones you’re already downloading and using, but maybe you don’t know about the way they work, exactly.
Apps are short for “applications,” and these refer to programs downloaded and installed onto your phone or other mobile device. They rely on available storage space on the system in order to successfully install and run. PWAs, on the other hand, are stored on the server and are always available as long as the server is up.
PWAs are hardly a new concept, and it’s considered good practice to ensure your web app acts just like a mobile app. Ideally, your user should not be able to tell whether they’re using a PWA or a native app in a blind app test.
The goal of a good PWA is to use progressive enhancement to deliver the best possible user experience, meaning it does exactly the same things for a user with a brand new version of the latest iPhone as it does for someone using a much older one. Depending on how staggering the generational difference, some features might not be available, but the app will always work the way it is supposed to.
The positive experiences of a PWA can translate to multiple device types and operating systems:
- PWAs instantly load and don’t show off the “downasaur.”
- They act like a device’s natural app, completely immersive and functional
- They can be installed right to the user’s home screen and without having to install through the App Store
- PWAs have smooth scrolling and animations, and they are fast to respond to a user’s input
- They can even take advantage of web push animations
Who Uses PWAs?
If you’re feeling lured into the world of PWAs, you’re not alone.
Google, Apple, and Microsoft all have PWA support in their browsers, and Twitter Lite is a PWA that now serves as the default experience for mobile users as of spring 2017. Twitter joins a league of pioneers–a group which includes Instagram, Uber, Starbucks, and Tinder–that have also enabled the PWA experience on their websites.
So does progressive web app development sound like the right choice for your company? Think of it this way: If you have a great app idea but don’t know where to begin, then a PWA offers a wealth of new opportunities for you to take advantage of.
How a PWA Can Help a Startup
The following are ways in which designing and implementing a progressive web app can benefit your company:
Tap into a much larger audience. If you use a PWA instead of a native app, then you can reach users on multiple types of devices. These apps give you a chance to showcase what you want to display to visitors using their preferred devices instead of a specific one. That means your content can be read by people in a crowd, traveling on a plane, or sitting at the office.
No need to install. All that extra storage doesn’t mean much if all the apps cost space to install. That’s not a problem with a progressive web app. Up to 25 percent of users delete apps to install a new one on their devices, and your non-PWA mobile app development could be one of those.
Always the latest version. Likewise, it’s never fun to have to update your app, especially right after opening it and expecting to use it. PWAs are always updated since they’re like websites.
Uses less data and will work offline. Since you’re not downloading anything every time, coupled with the ability to access the content online, PWAs naturally use less data all around.
Get started that much faster. This is especially important for startups, who do not yet have the loyal customer base willing to go through the trouble of downloading apps. Having a progressive app means customers just have to find your website and can immediately interact with your business.
Designing a Progressive Web App for Software Developers
When it comes to people using your app, user experience should be the focus of your PWA. If it’s a good experience, users will want to come back. Bad experiences make for one-time users. Having said that, how can we ensure a good user experience?
Android users know all about back buttons in native apps, so PWAs need to take advantage of this as well. Continuity is critical: Your goal should be to have a PWA that works just as well as a native app, so throw that back button into the header bar.
Time has always been money, and that’s even more true in this day and age. People leave sites when they don’t load quickly enough, because nobody has the time to wait for a clunky website to load poorly. We’d suggest practices like caching content so that visitors can instantly load the page.
Android users in particular expect their PWAs to work offline, and that’s possible thanks to something called “service workers.” Using this technology, the cached content will transmit when even if the user has no data, allowing a functional app without error messages.
Challenges in Designing PWAs
Some develops mistakenly believe that because PWAs are an app and website hybrid, then they must have gained only the best of both worlds and it’ll be a cinch to build. In fact, there’s a lot of additional expertise and technique involved in building a PWA compared to a normal website.
Of course, it’s less work than setting up a native app, but you’ll still need to develop some new skills to get your PWA up and running.
It may not be a simple task, but several tools exist now for designers with a vision who can benefit from a reduced learning curve. With the help of SDKs, your PWA will reach customers that much faster!
Progressive web apps are quickly becoming the gold standard for mobile customers. Responsive design is simply the responsible approach, ensuring your customer can interact with your website no matter what their preferred device may