Progressive web apps: Are they the next big thing?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about progressive web apps (PWAs), which are taking the IT world by storm. (And in case you have been living under a rock, you can check out this primer on progressive web apps from Google.)

From Burger King (the Whopper is still amazing most of the time — depending on the individual restaurant, but this is another topic!) to NASA, The Home Depot to Apple, more and more organizations are switching to progressive web apps, and we can’t blame them. After all, the combination of the immersive experience offered by native apps coupled with the reach of and ease of access to the Internet is hard to ignore.

With progressive web apps, you get speed, engagement, and reliability — the whole shebang. With support for these apps increasing rapidly across different platforms, now’s the time to get started.

Best progressive app builder tools

React: It all starts with selecting the correct core framework for the job, and you can’t go wrong with React. Supported and managed by Facebook, React is tested daily by 1.18 billion users. Another reason why this framework is preferred by developers is React Native, which allows you to port the apps created with React easily to native applications. Thanks to its component-centric developmental approach, you can reuse components built using JavaScript. Plus, you can deliver apps to various browsers, devices, and operating systems without hassle.

Polymer: With Polymer template, you can reduce the time needed to set up progressive web apps. This open source Google project receives regular updates to stay in sync with the open source projects the template leverages. App delivery to the device is optimized significantly thanks to the PRPL pattern of the Polymer templates. You can use HTTP2 servers to deliver on-demand resources and pre-cache resourced provided by service workers. Overall, Polymer is great for building prototypes in a jiffy. You can get started on project coding immediately while bypassing the custom setup.

Webpack: Nothing beats Webpack when it comes to creating complex, frontend-driven progressive sites. Sure, the learning curve is a bit harsh, but this module bundler for JS apps enables you to form dependency graphs quickly, thereby eliminating the requirement for managed dependencies. As a result, you’re not required to link JS files present at the bottom of HTML web pages anymore. You can call every noncode asset via JavaScript using Webpack as objects with considerable speed benefits.

Knockout: Knockout is perfect for creating smaller progressive web apps projects where execution speed is key. Coupled with JavaScript, it lets you handle Model-View-View-Model (MVVM) bindings. You can use Knockout for developing proofs of concept at the time of design sprint. You can use Knockout for extending HTML and templating.

Lighthouse: Lighthouse is Google’s progressive web apps performance-monitoring tool that installs as a Chrome plugin. You will receive a detailed analytics report on numerous sub-sections consisting of specific technologies that you can modify or add to enhance your PWA performance. So, Lighthouse both tests your websites and guides you on the right path to resolve the issues.

Comparing progressive web apps to native apps

Progressive web apps are the darling of the IT industry right now. But the big question is, are they merely a fad or will they have a lasting impact? The answer can help you make a salient decision and impact your company for years to come.

However, it all starts with understanding the differences between the two. Sure, there are several advantages to native apps that progressive web apps cannot match up to, and vice versa. Check them out below:

Android functionality

Progressive Web Apps

Android integration is equally good on native apps and progressive web apps. Native apps, however, provide a few benefits that iOS cannot compare to when it comes to progressive web apps. Home screen installation is a lot simpler and more straightforward on Android, which means as soon as users access a PWA in their Android browser, they are prompted to install it on their home screen for quick access.

iOS devices also support the installation of PWAs on the home screen, but there is no way for the user to know that this is a viable option. Moreover, they are given no clear instructions regarding the process. Also, service workers are supported by all Android browsers, while iOS users gain the advantage only on the Safari browser.

iOS functionality

Progressive Web Apps

PWAs are compatible with iOS but only up to a certain extent. A 100 percent of their possible functionality, however, isn’t supported like on the Android platform. Thankfully, Apple’s latest move to supporting service workers in the Safari browser is a major improvement that has opened the doors to functionality that was earlier lacking.

However, one thing is still missing in Apple devices and that’s the capacity to get web push notifications, which is a major oversight. Alternatively, users can be contacted through SMS but if regular push notifications are necessary for your project, it is vital to press the key (pun intended) for native apps.

Geolocation capabilities

Progressive web apps and native apps offer almost the same features with one major difference — geofences and beacons. Unfortunately, the former apps do not support geolocation, which means users have no way of receiving location-based notifications.

Considering how integral an element this is to millions of different projects, this serves as a severe hindrance for progressive web apps. Thankfully, the PWAs do let you send push notifications depending on targeted factors, like the city or country of the users, so it’s not a total loss.

Discoverability

Is your business or project still in the fledgling stages? Then you need SEO to help potential customers and users discover more about you. SEO, however, is limited to PWAs as they center on search engine queries.

App store optimization (ASO) is available for native apps, but it lacks the power and efficiency of traditional web SEO that is instrumental in bringing useful traffic to your PWA from the various long-tail search keywords.

Device differentiation

When you go native, your audience is severely limited as they must use one of two standard mobile operating systems. Blackberry and Windows users are forgone, and desktop users especially are ignored. But given how PWAs run in your browser, you ensure that 100 percent of individuals enjoy access to this universal tool and get a chance to access your content.

PWAs or native?

At the end of the day, it all boils down to your requirements. Progressive web apps might not meet all your requirements, which means you may still have to rely on native apps.

However, all signs point to progressive web apps slowly overshadowing and replacing native apps. That’s still a ways off though, and by that time, their functionality will have increased exponentially making them a worthy substitute.

Featured image: Pixabay

4 thoughts on “Progressive web apps: Are they the next big thing?”

  1. Benjamin,

    I enjoy your work. If you are up for it, I’d enjoy introducing you to a new platform that delivers PWA experiences as a service called Lumavate.

    If you are up for it, I’ll connect you to the CEO to learn more about our customer experiences.

  2. I’d add my 2 cents about PWAs on Windows.

    PWAs on Windows have access to WinRT APIs and that means the ability to use a lot of stuff that wouldn’t be expected like hardware and file system access, system media controls, ability to set the dark and light mode.

    It’s a perfect blend of both worlds, a combination of features from mobile applications like push notifications, accessing the device camera or the location, with the features of the traditional web app. It’s like a web page on steroids.

    Also, about discoverability I’d add that PWAs now can be published in the Microsoft Store, so you get some benefits that you don’t get when you’re just in the browser.

    The Dev Center gives you some pretty cool analytics and integration with Feedback Hub allows to receive feedback about your app.

    All this is pretty exciting, so let’s not waste any minute and go build some PWAs!

  3. Hi Benjamin, thank you for the article. You mention differences with native apps as support for geofences and beacons.

    Unfortunately these are the very two tech features I am using in my product.

    Any reference to work happening at w3c or Industry leaders on fixing this and adding these features? Geofencing is triggered by the Play services framework combined with user lat/long as determined by GPS hardware. Is this a limitation of the framework not binding to Chrome on Android devices?

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