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December 1, 2016

What is a Progressive Web App & Who Should Be Using It?

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According to Google, progressive web apps are the next big thing for “delivering amazing user experiences on the web.” In the same vein as AMP (accelerated mobile pages), PWAs are causing digital marketers to rethink the way they can design and deliver their sites in a mobile-first world. Website owners and designers need to be paying attention. So just what is a progressive web app?

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What is a Progressive Web App?

It’s an all-in-one solution for web developers to create a single version website/app that can be delivered across all devices and works like an app but without the hassle of distribution through an app store.

A progressive web app, or PWA, combines the best of a website and the best of a native application. It’s a type of hybrid app. If a user comes to your PWA-run site, they’ll get the mobile version of your site but faster.

With a traditional hybrid app, like the Amazon app, the user’s interactions with it are built into the phone as an app, but the data collected is from the web. Here’s where a PWA is different. A PWA launches a browser to do the same thing. With the introduction of service workers (the scripts running in the background of your browser) and other technological advancements, browsers are more sophisticated than ever. They can do things on your phone that previously could only be done through a native app. This means you don’t have to publish the app in the app store. The barrier to entry of downloading an app is no longer an issue for your users.

As a developer, you no longer have to program different apps for different devices, nor deal with special screen sizes. You can invest your time and resources into designing a PWA. If you have to make a mobile website, you might as well just use a PWA. It’s well worth it.

Talking PWAs with Cindy Krum

My longtime friend Cindy Krum, the CEO and founder of MobileMoxie, is a PWA guru. I wanted to get her take on how far in the future the mass adoption of PWAs looks to be. Here’s what she had to say:

Lots of big companies are already testing PWA code and integrations on their sites. Lyft, Mic, Washington Post, Flipboard, The Weather Channel and more have already launched beta PWA sites for testing. Google has already published some PWA development guidelines for SEO, but I think the update may depend on how aggressively Google and other influential companies promote PWAs.

Google has also been hinting at cross-over between AMP and PWAs, using AMP to make PWA’s work in Safari, so there may be some new iteration of AMP that makes AMP enabled content available in PWA format. The PWA news viewer already behaves a lot like a PWA. My guess is that in the next year, we will see some of the more agile and cutting edge companies take their PWAs out of beta, and making them their main sites, with or without the influence of AMP.

It will be interesting to watch more widespread adoption of PWAs unfold. As with anything new, of course, it can sometimes be hard to get clients to adopt bleeding edge technology. Here’s how Cindy is getting her clients on board.

Cindy: The main recommendation is to try it out. You can add a service worker and an app manifest to any existing website. It is not enough to get the full benefits of a PWA, but it is enough to learn how easy or difficult the integration will be for your company. In our case, we developed an app manifest in five minutes, and a service worker in 90 minutes.

Making web-apps indexable tends to be the harder part of the equation, but that is true with or without the PWA elements. Web apps are hard to index because developers don’t always include URLs for state-changes in the web app.

For the immediate future, PWAs are something to be aware of, and if you’re able to, start working into your testing and planning cycles. There are no guarantees it’ll be the go-forward structure and remain supported by Google forever, but you don’t want to be left behind. There are practical upsides to PWAs that are worth considering regardless of how long it takes this to be a mainstream approach.

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12 responses to “What is a Progressive Web App & Who Should Be Using It?”

  1. Tim Colling writes:

    This is a logical move for Google and should make many things actually simpler for developers.

    With that said, I think that this also provides another interesting benefit for Google: it undermines one component of the “walled garden” that Apple uses to try to hold competitors at bay on iOS devices, namely, the App store, at least for many applications.

    What do you think?

  2. Duane Forrester writes:

    it IS going to be interesting, over the next 5 years, to see if Google is willing to walk away form it’s own app store, support PWAs and how that transition will play out. it won’t be overnight, but if adoption ramps up for PWAs, then we’re going to see a very different world. We’ll see consolidation of app developers (stand alone folks will simply walk away as money dries up and design shops will merge to survive) and it’ll lead, I think, to those workflows becoming fully integrated inside agencies and corporations. The skills to build in that space will obviously be in demand.

  3. Digital Mover Agency SEO writes:

    Very good post! By far Google is not against us and its always trying to really put the best information to our reach. Thanks!

  4. Sadhan Pal writes:

    Really, it’s a very useful app for users. It helps the entire process easy to use. Thanks for this informative article.

  5. Produse Naturiste writes:

    Google always trying to improve and bring us innovations, I like that. Very interesting post, thank you.

  6. John Saigal writes:

    Great article share, Google continually operating to advance and produce North American nation changes, I favor that. simply hope that PWA is going to be supported for an extended time and not be abandoned.

  7. Duane Forrester writes:

    Completely agree. The single biggest issue we face with this approach, after adoption (and because of it), is whether it’ll be supported long term. I’ve asked this several times at meetings with google and been told “Of course…” each time. But having worked in an environment like that myself, I know that support for programs is sometimes variable over time.

  8. Atul Mandal writes:

    Hello Duane, Thanks for giving concept of Progressive app. This concept will help me a lot. Thanks.

  9. PNR Check writes:

    The Concept of PWA seems amazing, it’s really all in one solution. We don’t have to design different different version of sites. All for one, it’s really amazed me. Thanks for bring forward this valuable resource to our attention.

  10. Kaustav Ghosh Dostider writes:

    I am clear about progressive web app concept. Very useful, Thanks.

  11. Jyothi writes:

    It’s good to be here and read some interesting posts , i got very useful information about progressive web apps over here thanks for sharing it .

  12. Alok Halder writes:

    Nice and new concept, Thanks for this nice tutorial.

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