Are Progressive Web Apps (PWA) the future of Mobile Web App Development?

There has been a lot of talk going on lately about the revolution in the world of web programming with PWA or Progressive Web Apps, but what exactly are they?

Progressive web apps is a term that is given to a new generation of applications that increase their functionality, according to the capabilities of the device in which they run, they increase, hence the word progressive. The next part of the name ‘web’ refers to the fact that they are built using web development standards, some already known as HTML, CSS and JavaScript; and a new generation of JavaScript APIs. The final part of the ‘app’ is because Progressive Web Apps behave like native web applications, but use web technologies.

In simple words, they are web pages that behave like native apps. The objective of the Progressive Web Apps is to convert websites into applications. Therefore, we must bear in mind what is the difference between them, what their advantages are, the characteristics they show and why we want our websites to become applications or have the characteristics of an application.

The main features or advantages of a web are the following:

  • They work on any device. This means that they are accessible from any device that has a browser: mobile phones, tablets, computers, televisions, wearables, etc. They only need a browser in order to be executed, and this is thanks to the fact that HTML and JavaScript are multi-platform and multi-device languages.
  • They get new users in a more effective way than mobile applications because of their universality.
  • The access of users to websites is much easier thanks to advertising, social networks, email campaigns, etc.

On the other side we have the native apps that show the following characteristics:

  • The applications are not universal and need to be created in a specific programming language depending on the device where they are going to be executed, whether it is an iOS device, Android, SmartTV, SmartWatch, etc.
  • Increased user loyalty. The handicap of universality does not prevent users who have downloaded an application in a terminal from re-entering it again, which is more difficult to happen on a website. This is because the applications are installed on the device and it is not necessary to remember a URL, perform a search on Google or have the site saved on our favorite bookmarks. We will simply access the application with a single click on the logo.
  • Another of the greatest virtues of the applications is the sending of notifications. This type of warnings occurs even when the user is not using the device and they get the user to re-interest to access the application again.
  • Many of the applications work without the need of an Internet connection. This possibility is available for certain specific cases. However, it is impossible to access a web without a connection.

Next, we will see the characteristics of PWA:

  • They are webs. Therefore, they are universal and multiplatform. You can access them from anywhere and from any device.
  • They are installable. A web application, if it is progressive, will be able to be installed on a mobile device or tablet. Once installed, the user will not need to access the browser and enter the address to re-enter, but in its application list will have one more with the logo and name of the web. This website will have the appearance of a native application on the device.
  • They send push notifications that can be interesting, so that the user opens the notification and accesses the installed application, in the same way, that it happens in the native apps.
  • They must be able to work without an Internet connection. It must be accessible, even if the user does not have a connection, either Wi-Fi or data.
  • Better loading time and higher performance than web applications.
  • Almost instantaneous loading of content.

How to turn your website into a PWA?

You will need to use the following techniques and technologies to make your website progressive.

  • Responsive Web Design. It is a set of techniques, specific frameworks to create interfaces that adapt, automatically, to the device in which they are being visualized.
  • Service Workers. It is a technology that allows executing services in the background in browsers. The main advantage they offer is that they can be executed independently from the application.
  • Shell App. The idea of ​​this model is to separate functionality and content in order to load them separately. It is a pattern that many Single Page Applications usually use. The objective is to make the user has the perception that the loading speed of this type of applications is faster.
  • Manifest File. Basically, it is the standard way to inform the browser of our devices that the web is installable. It is a file with JSON format and it is widely supported in browsers. To include this file on the web, it’s enough to include the following code in the head of the HTML:
<link rel="manifest" href="/manifest.json" />


Advantages of Progressive Web App

The first and most remarkable is that they don’t require installation. So, you don’t need extra space on your mobile phone or computer. The negative part is that they require a constant internet connection and although that is not so difficult today, there are times when we don’t have access to it.

Another advantage is that by not depending on the phone's hardware as same as a native app, they allow faster loading speed (if we have a good internet connection, of course). Also, there is the option to download it and use it offline, although that would make them almost a native app.

In addition, PWAs can send push notifications directly to the smartphone and often have a full-screen mode, so that the browser disappears from view during the time we are running.

Progressive Web Applications also allow us to run them on any operating system, a great advantage over native apps, in which each requires a specific app for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac ... or any other system.

They offer better protection against malware. The reason is that they can not access specific parts of the system that are only accessible from inside.

On the other hand, using PWA's has the advantage of almost always accessing the most updated version of the application, which differentiates it from native applications. PWAs are easier to update than the native ones, which have to be updated by the user when the developer has an available update, which requires more work.

The development and maintenance of a PWA require less programming, development and maintenance work than a native app because it is at the same time a web page and an independent platform application.

All this means lower development and management costs compared to native apps. This is because the revenue should not be shared with Google or Apple for "placing" them in their app stores.

In summary, progressive web applications are a natural evolution of web applications that blur the line between the web and applications, being able to perform tasks that only native applications could do.

on January 21, 2019