Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs, may sound like some techy fringe movement that’s only supported/adopted by a small minority. And in many ways, that’s exactly what they are. But what you really need to know about PWAs is that they’re:
- Based on a model that turns conventional practice on its head.
- At the forefront of a new era of mobile technology.
- Not owned by any one person or organisation.
However, they are also unlike many small fringe movements who try implement radical, widespread change and ultimately fail. Because PWAs are starting to make a significant impact on how millions of people use the web.
PWAs: A Symptom of an Evolving Landscape?
Progressive Web Apps most likely came about because our world is becoming more mobile and digital. And despite much confusion about how to define them, PWAs are becoming a core part of how many brands and companies connect with their audiences. From Twitter, the Guardian, and Uber, to Forbes, Wired, and Spotify – PWAs are everywhere.
Even major browsers and platforms like Google and Apple are implementing support for PWAs into their ecosystem. Since their experience is so slick, there’s almost a 100% chance you have or will soon use one soon. However, they’ve evolved so gradually over the years that you may already be using one regularly, without realising it!
So, what exactly is a PWA?
One of the simplest descriptions of PWAs is by Alex Russell, the originator of the term. He suggests that PWAs are “just websites that took all the right vitamins.” What this essentially means is that progressive web apps are not some off-the-shelf product you go out and purchase.
They’re the culmination of recent advancements both in the browser and in the Cache. Such as the availability of service workers and Push APIs. That all come together to create a kind of ultra-enhanced, Super Website.
In this way, PWAs are often talked about as in-browser apps — possessing all the good things about an app. Only without being packaged and deployed through a store.
How to turn your website into a PWA
According to a few progressives in the PWA space, in order to turn your website into a PWA, all you need is a few basic technical ingredients:
- Switch over to HTTPS
- Add a JSON manifest file with your metadata
- Add a service worker
These three staples are what create a PWA from an operational standpoint. However, they don’t say much about how this souped up website functions and what a PWA actually means for you and your users.
This is where Google can help. According to Google Developers, PWAs are any website experiences that are:
- Reliable: Load instantly and never show “the downasaur”, even in uncertain network conditions.
- Fast: Respond quickly to user interactions with silky-smooth animations and no scrolling.
- Engaging: Feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.
Such attributes are the inevitable outcomes of adopting the three advancements above. And you could also add to that list safety. Because your site will be served via TLS (a Service Worker requirement), responsiveness to fit any form factor, and a freshness thanks to the Service Worker update process.
Progressive Features of Progressive Web Apps
You can start to see why PWAs are so hard to define and yet at the same time so desirable. So with that being the case, let’s now look at the actual everyday experience of a PWA and dive into a few of the features that make them so great.
Offline Access to Your Site
By taking advantage of service workers and caching data, progressive web apps allow offline access to your website. Or even access while on low-quality networks.
When a user first visits your website, its data downloads in the background. Therefore, on subsequent visits, whether they’re connected or not, they can, at the very least, experience a basic version of your site.
Build a Loyal Following
A unique thing about PWAs is that they allow businesses to turn users into repeat visitors and even build a regular following. One way they do this is by allowing users to install web apps on their home screens. They also enable businesses to keep in touch via push messages.
When used together, such strategies can help you stay connected to visitors whilst they’re away from your site. And ultimately, build better relationships in the long-term.
App-like Experience in the Browser
Most businesses at some point weigh up the idea of creating a mobile app. As PWAs provide an app-like experience without investing lots of money – or needing users to first find and download it, they pretty much solve this issue.
In doing so, PWAs also offer users the many benefits of the app experience. Such as a full-screen interface, super quick-loading, responsive design. All while by taking up minimal storage space.
Improve Your Search Visibility
Google is a big advocate of PWAs as they bring the experience of an app out of their closed-off environments. And hence, into the search landscape of the browser. Not only do PWAs offer greater user experience, but they also help businesses improve their visibility in the search engine results.
SEO moguls suggest that PWAs are not a ranking factor in 2019. However, PWAs deliver upon many other ranking factors, like recurring traffic through home screen icons. So, it’s most likely going to be a key signal going forward.
It’s difficult to say definitively that – yes, progressive web apps are the future of the web. However, it’s easy to say for sure that the future web is mobile, offline, fast, convenient, and a pleasure to use. And PWAs just happen to be all of that and more.