Progressive Web Apps. What are they and why would I want one?

//Progressive Web Apps. What are they and why would I want one?

Progressive Web Apps. What are they and why would I want one?

What is a PWA?

PWA stands for progressive web app. This is an app built from the web technologies that we are already familiar with, like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but off the feel and functionality that mimics an actual native app. With a few simple additions almost, any website can be changed to a progressive web app. PWA can be developed quickly, in lieu of a native app that’s fairly difficult and time intensive to develop. Additionally, all the features of native apps can be offered, think push notifications, offline support, and more.

It’s likely you have already visited a site online this is actually a progressive web app. Twitter.com, for one is in fact a PWA. Visiting that site on your smartphone, you can install it to your home screen. Once saved, opening the saved Twitter site will offer an experience that looks and performs like a native app. There’s not even a browser window, and the experience of running it from an iPhone or an Android smartphone is identical. Simply log in and begin using. This is very clearly a major benefit of building your web app with a PWA in mind.

PWAs are gaining momentum and adoption by many large sites. Think Starbucks.com, Pinterest.com, Washingtonpost.com and Uber.com, all are actually installable on your home screen and offer a comparable experience to their native apps.

How is a native app different from a PWA?
A native app, the ones you download from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store, is often built in a programming language specific to that platform. So for iOS apps, that would be Swift and for Android apps, Java. When building an app for those platforms, you must consider the technology of each. While there are shortcuts, they each come with limitations. If you desire to have apps supported on all mobile platforms, you need resources to develop on all of the different technologies. There is currently no easy solution for building one app and publishing it across all mobile platforms.

If you want the best of both worlds, there is a solution. A progressive web app, for instance. This runs in the browser and — once saved to the home screen — functions like a native app. PWAs even get access to the underlying hardware and software that the browser can’t access for safety reasons. If the PWA performs appropriately, users will be unable to notice they are using a web-based app instead of a native one.

This solution does not come without caveats. While browsers have been quick to adopt the technology for this, there are still some limitations. On iOS, the technology needed works inconsistently in Safari. Apple hasn’t made it easy to support everything yet, making the job of getting the same exact experience everywhere a challenge.

Do PWAs provide benefits?
The sole reason for developing apps at this point is because they offer greater engagement. Users who install your app are your highly engaged and they are more likely to turn their usage into meaningful business conversions. push notifications have made it much easier to re-engage with users. Apps can offer an excellent experience that can do well for a brand.

As discussed previously, there many benefits of PWAs, the following is a quick overview:

  • Bypassing the process of getting into different app stores
  • PWAs can be built with common web technologies
  • PWAs are typically cheaper to build than apps
  • There are fewer code-bases to maintain when turning your site into an app
  • PWAs are responsive and work with many different screen sizes
  • PWAs are smooth, fast and lightweight
  • Reduce the amount of money transferred to Google and Apple
  • PWAs work offline, unlike a regular site
  • PWAs are discoverable via search engines (which garner larger audience than app stores. Additionally, a PWA can be distributed via app stores)
  • You can use push notifications to re-engage users
  • Installing a PWA can lead to higher engagement

Despite these advantages, native apps still offer some advantages. PWAs get deeper access to the operating system of a smartphone than a site, however a native app can go deeper still. Plus, there are limits to what a PWA can do. For instance, PWAs are not the best choice when you want to build high- performance games.

Clearly, evaluating a PWA for your mobile strategy is prudent. The main question that must be answered is: does my audience benefit from this?

Who does a PWA benefit?
Should everyone simply build a PWA? No, consider your business and — more importantly — your target audience. Are they even using apps? Isn’t this an overly complex way of getting to what you want to achieve? Again, like everything, you need to carefully research your audience. What do you want this technology to do? Where are your users? Do they have a good data connection and solid hardware? How and where are they using your content? And do you think an app can help them do their job better?

PWAs are offer many benefits and implementing them doesn’t have to be difficult. However, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean you should do it. If your audience has no need for it, why would you build one?

What are the SEO concerns of a PWA?
The PWA is inherently web-centric. It was born from the web and developed with search engines in mind to make discovery easy. Of course, you can make a progressive web app out of any site and it resource intensive to do so. However, many PWAs use JavaScript to build more complex functionality

When setting up a PWA, you must ensure your JavaScript is accessible. Take care not to block bots and make sure that links are available. To improve the rendering process you ensure the JavaScript framework uses server-side rendering.

Turning your site into a PWA doesn’t ensure that you directly improve the SEO of that site. If it makes sense to turn your site into a PWA, do so, but don’t do it for any perceived SEO benefits. If you have a great PWA, you are offering your users a fantastic user experience, which might make you one-up your competition. In this regard, it’s a good idea to take a look at PWAs for your mobile SEO strategy.

Three main building blocks to consider when building a PWA
While setting up a PWA is fairly simple, there are three things you need to provide before your site turns into a valid PWA.

  • A secure connection (HTTPS): PWAs only work on trusted connections, you have to serve them over a secure connection. This is not only for security reasons, but it’s also a very important trust factor for users.
  • A service worker: A service worker is a piece of script that runs in the background. This helps you determine how to handle network requests for your PWA, making it possible to do more complex work.
  • The manifest file: This JSON file contains information on how your PWA should appear and function. Here, you determine the name, description, icons, colors, et cetera.

How to set up a PWA?
There are plenty of resources for building a simple PWA. These allow you to get a feel for the process. Google has an excellent, easy to follow tutorial on PWAS on the web.dev site. Mozilla has a wealth of documentation on building progressive web apps. Microsoft also has rich developer docs on building PWAs. Microsoft even built a tool called PWABuilder that’ll help you turn your site into a PWA. Of course, there are WordPress plugins that help you make a PWA of your site. In addition, Google is working on bringing base-support for PWAs to WordPress Core.

Engage your users with a progressive web app
Progressive web apps can be a great addition to your mobile toolkit. Done well, they are fast, work offline and perform like a native app. All in all, they can offer your users an awesome user experience.

 

 

 

By | 2021-11-29T20:41:00+00:00 June 13th, 2021|Technology|0 Comments

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