PWA: three letters that have been on every web enthusiast’s lips for more than a year now. Often presented as a web application revolution, the advent of Progressive Web Apps is more like a long-awaited harvest; developers, users and tech companies sow the seeds of the web as an almighty platform by tearing down long established boundaries between desktop and mobile, web and native, online and offline.
The term “Progressive Web App” has been recently adopted by the tech industry to designate a web application (a software that lives within a web browser) that matches a number of criteria. While the precise meaning of “Progressive” can be interpreted in various ways (depending on where the person explaining it sits within the tech-savviness spectrum), the key characteristics of what makes a web app “Progressive” are now easier to understand.
Mozilla and Google both offer very comprehensive lists of criteria and advices - but instead of going through a list, let’s take an example:
Lyft released a PWA in 2016. Accessible in a browser via a simple url and indifferent to being opened on a computer or smartphone, it offers the same features as its “native” app counterpart found in the Apple app store or Google Play, including notifications and offline access.
Their PWA provides instant access to their service, powered by web technologies, with no installation required. In short, it provides a better user experience at a fraction of the cost and time that would have been required to build iOS and Android native apps on top of their web version.
These are PWA in a nutshell: advanced, seamless, easily accessible and fast applications in the browser. But the road to PWA acceptance has been long and uncertain...
The endeavor of pushing the limits of what is possible within a web browser is as old as the web itself. Over the years, we have seen many attempts to bring the capabilities of a “real” application to the web, sometimes with success, but mostly not.
Warning! Understatement ahead! The smartphone revolution deeply transformed the way people use the web. The ever-growing traffic from mobile forced everyone to adapt and offer the best possible experience for mobile users. Since Flash wasn’t compatible, it disappeared in the process.
On top of this, there is also the fact that most browsers now automatically update and work together to release new standard features around the same time. This allows for little miracles like the implementation of the CSS Grid specification across every major browser within a three month period (another blog on this soon!). As a consequence, offering a richer user experience, regardless of the browser they use, has never been easier.
Throughout the process of adopting PWA, gigantic leaps in progress has been made in closing the gap between desktop and mobile, web and native, performance-wise and feature-wise. A decade ago, who would have thought it would be possible to trigger notifications from the browser, or access your webcam without using a plugin?
Not quite as ready as the rest, Web Assembly will be the cherry on top of the sundae. In short, it is a standardized binary format for the web which allows for never-before-seen performance levels in the browser.
With Web Assembly, PWAs are about to be able to compete with native applications on performance and heavy computational tasks.
While all these new features and possibilities are exciting, we must not forget that a web app is still a web page. So, it must respect its rules, philosophy and occasional constraints such as security, bandwidth and device limitations, the need for accessibility, or even search engine optimization needs.
The web is for everyone, but everyone does not have the latest device or fastest internet connection, and so not everyone has equal access visual content. We must not leave anyone behind, and that is really what “Progressive” stands for - harvesting the latest in web technologies so as many people as possible can use our products.
The web is now ready to become the main platform for, well, most things: reliable, resilient, widely-available, and capable of almost anything.
We are ready and up to the challenge! We love the web and web standards, and have followed its evolution throughout the years building many different web products - from hand-crafted, custom websites to fully-fledged web applications.