Categories: Developers / Mobile Apps

Progressive web apps (PWAs) aren’t new, but they’re gathering new traction. In the past year Google, Microsoft and Apple have all been looking to PWAs as a way to create fast, seamless and ready-to-go experiences across all platforms and devices.

So what exactly are progressive web apps? Progressive web apps are web pages or websites that function like apps. They combine in-built browser functionality with a mobile look and feel, giving users the best of both worlds.

Why the sudden interest in progressive web apps?

Progressive web apps span all platforms and devices.

Progressive web apps span all platforms and devices.

But what about apps? Aren’t they what it’s all about? Sure, but the success of mobile apps has come with its own challenges. Searching through the millions of apps in the App Store is tough. Developing across multiple platforms and devices is complicated. Encouraging users to keep their apps updated isn’t a piece of a cake. And guaranteeing a quality experience when a user has a flaky internet connection is no bueno.

PWAs simplify a lot of the challenges that developers – and users – face around apps. They work for all users, and they dynamically respond to the format of any device. They don’t need a constant, high-speed connection, and they update themselves. They’re typically much more lightweight than their native app counterparts. Plus they’re easily discoverable and primed for re-engagement.

All right, so what goes into building a PWA?

PWAs mean rapid-fire load times.

PWAs mean rapid-fire load times.

A PWA consists of 3 core elements. A web app manifest, a service worker and an app shell.

The manifest is a centralized repository for metadata. It helps make your PWA discoverable in search and identifiable as an application.

The service worker is a background script that handles data management, resource requests, updates and push notifications.

The app shell is the HTML, CSS and Javascript that goes into the user interface of the PWS. It relies heavily on caching to ensure fast load times – and to take the pressure off your device.

So how long until progressive web apps take over the world?

It’s full speed ahead for all the players in this space.

Microsoft has now enabled Service Workers and push notifications by default, paving the way for a PWA takeover. It’s also set to start crawling and indexing PWAs for the Microsoft Store. Developers can also independently submit their PWAs to the Microsoft Store.

In Dec 2017 Google announced it would be phasing out Chrome apps in favor of progressive web apps. It’s no surprise: Chrome apps are limited to Google’s browser, whereas PWAs span all platforms and browsers.

And Apple? It seemed to be dragging its feet there for a while. But in August 2017 it announced that Safari would start supporting service workers. In November it began implementing the Web App Manifest in WebKit.

Fast, universal and searchable, PWAs represent the possibility of a single app standard to rule them all. Keep an eye out, because for Apple, Google and Microsoft they may just be the great equalizer.

Touchtap is a digital agency specializing in mobile-first development.We can build your mobile app for you.

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