Here at Swim we’re always striving to stay aware of the latest advancements in the digital space. It’s a difficult task given the webs’ constant evolution but in order to stay current and provide our clients the greatest possible service, we endeavour to learn and implement the latest technologies wherever we can.
Progressive Web Apps are a hot topic at the moment and are generating much debate within the digital community. Google coined the phrase ‘Progressive Web App’ in 2015; it describes a methodology for building Reliable, Fast and Engaging web applications.
PWA’s tap into the power of modern browser capabilities such as offline availability, push notifications and discoverability. Here’s a high-level list of features:
- Progressive – Work for every user, regardless of browser choice because they’re built with progressive enhancement as a core tenet.
- Responsive – Fit any form factor: desktop, mobile, tablet, or forms yet to emerge.
- Connectivity independent – Service workers allow work offline, or on low quality networks.
- App-like – Feel like an app to the user with app-style interactions and navigation.
- Fresh – Always up-to-date thanks to the service worker update process.
- Safe – Served via HTTPS to prevent snooping and ensure content hasn’t been tampered with.
- Discoverable – Are identifiable as “applications” thanks to W3C manifests and service worker registration scope allowing search engines to find them.
- Re-engaging – Make re-engagement easy through features like push notifications.
- Installable – Allow users to “keep” apps they find most useful on their home screen without the hassle of an app store.
- Linkable – Easily shared via a URL and do not require complex installation.
In recent weeks Twitter announced the release of their own dedicated PWA. You can read general info about it here, an introductory article here and a more technical explanation here.
The Washington Post also released their own PWA late last year and it drastically increased their overall user engagement, even on browsers that don’t currently support all PWA features.
It lead Chris Coyier at CSS Tricks to ask: “Why should we have to lock our work behind an App Store? Why should we have to build two codebases – one for the mobile app, another for the website?”
We have found that as with most digital process, support within the community is not unanimous; developers are raising legitimate questions and concerns. Respected senior developer Jeremy Keith pointed out two major issues with the practice:
We believe that there’s also an issue of quality control, who will be responsible for ensuring that PWA’s perform optimally across all devices? Yes there are guidelines in place and developer tools available but it’s still relying on app builders to be accountable and release secure, accessible and high performing applications then keep them up to date.
Given that PWA’s are being pushed strongly by Google, we also think there are concerns over how they will be ranked within search results. Google control the vast bulk of Internet search traffic and it would be naive to think this will be handled completely impartially.
From our research it’s clear that this is just a set of guidelines laid out for building accessible and fast web-based applications. These are always important metrics to strive for, but we think there’s a need to ensure the quest for accessibility and performance doesn’t turn the web into a material design clone filled app store of its own.
The web needs to maintain its character and have input from a range of parties to truly excel and push forward in the right way.
The ongoing surge of PWA’s is going to challenge the order of things not only for the app building community but also in setting the direction for the web as an entity. Until Apple offer support for their devices and browsers, it can’t be decided definitively that PWA’s are that direction.
For now we’re left with a status quo where, as in most cases, the project or product in question will define the methodology that is used. Regardless, it’s going to be fascinating to watch and see if the emergence and use of PWA’s continues to gain traction.
We will be continually monitoring the landscape in order to ensure our customer’s products stay as current and competitive as possible.