By Stef Coenen, 01 March 2021

Progressive Web Apps for dummies: what, why, how

How relevant are progressive web apps today? We often get the question from our customers if they need to invest into making their website a progressive web app. But what is a progressive web app, and what can you get out of it?

Does it provide value for your business?

What are Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)?

Let's start by taking a look at what a Progressive Web App actually is:

"Progressive web apps are web apps that use emerging web browser APIs and features along with traditional progressive enhancement strategy to bring a native app-like user experience to cross-platform web applications. Progressive web apps are a useful design pattern, though they aren't a formalised standard."

The progressive web app is a technology set that originated in the search to having a cross platform universal way of having apps on all mobile devices. No matter the technology or the brand of your choice, a progressive web app provides a way to have an app "installed" on any device.

But, technicalities aside, a progressive web app will ensure your users are able to open your website directly instead of going to the browser of their choice and then opening your website by heart, or by doing a search. Your application becomes a direct icon on the home screen, and will be seen daily by its users.

Should I start creating Jira tickets already?

If this is possible, why isn't everyone doing this? All websites want to be visited daily, so having the website directly available on the home screen is the dream, right? Well, yes & no, the end result is interesting to say the least, but not all websites need to immediately make it their top priority.

Let's open up your mobile device, and simply take a look at the type of applications that have the privilege to get a designated space. What apps are taking up the space on your home screen and blocking the view of your carefully selected background image? On my home screen, I can only see apps that I use daily and those of which I am 100% certain that they provide a value to my day-to-day life.

If you are certain that your website provides this, then sure let's get going and make it a progressive web app. As longs as your visitors think the same of course.

What makes a Progressive Web App, "progressive"?

The progressive web app is in fact a set of key principles that define your website as being installable:

·      Your website needs to run on HTTPS

·      A manifest file is created and linked from your website

·      A service worker is setup, and controls the network request that your website makes

The combination of these principles can then trigger a browser specific UI to add the website to your home screen. There is no single progressive web app store, your website needs to be visited. So a certain engagement of your users is needed before the browser will suggest to install the PWA.

PWA vs Native

So why should you prefer the Progressive Web App opposed to a Native application? Simply put: a native application built in a traditional way needs a separate investment per platform. There are some technologies like react native that can decrease the investments per platform, but nevertheless making your website "installable" is simply a lower investment.

Long story short

If you are considering building a dedicated native app but want to work in a more cost efficient way, then the Progressive Web App is certainly an option to consider. However, in every case do keep in mind that your visitors are looking to get extra value by the options you provide. In other words: a Progressive Web App shouldn't become a glorified bookmark but it should be able to play an active part in the day-to-day life of your users while ensuring a high level of engagement. Otherwise, users won't be interested in sacrificing their home screen.

Make sure to read the previous entries of our "Tech for Dummies" series, and let us know on LinkedIn which subject you want to learn about next!

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