Breaking It Down: What Really is a Progressive Web App (PWA)?

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There’s a very high possibility most of you reading this article know what a web application is, scratch that, most of you reading this article know what a web application is. Have you ever been on a website just reading through and you get a message or a pop up on the top corner of the screen with the link to “Add to home screen”. You’re given a link to Add that website to the application home tray of your mobile device just like a native application downloaded from an app store. That’s basically a progressive web app. When you decide to download this application on your phone because you’re inquisitive and curious to know what the tech is going on, you discover you can enjoy the same level of user experience you enjoy while surfing on your browser, but right now it sits on your phone and you didn’t even log in to your Apple app store or your Google play store to install it.

That’s the idea behind creating a progressive web application, to give users the ability to interact with their favorite websites just like they would with a mobile app without going through the hassles of downloading from a mobile app store. As we all know most web users have gone mobile, building a mobile-based web application seems to make sense.

How do you define a Progressive Web Application?

One of the most interesting things about progressive web apps is that you hardly see a clear definition of what it is. It is mostly defined by its features and what makes it stand out from native apps. With all the definitions we’ve gotten so far we believe the best definition for a progressive web application is “progressive web apps are web applications that combine the features – best features though, of web applications and native applications”.

According to Alex Russell, a progressive web application is a web app with the right amount of vitamins, this definition I will always subscribe to. 

Why did they come up with progressive web apps? The native apps were doing just fine.

The idea behind creating progressive web applications was the need to overcome challenges faced by native apps and web apps, some of these challenges borders on:

  • Internet speed: the majority of the world’s population have relied solely on slow internet services with the exception of few highly developed countries. Internet speed affects user experience with native apps as well as web apps and it has been a major problem faced by internet users.
  • Slow websites: did you know that 53% of website users abandon an app or website if the load time is too slow? That’s one of the problems with the traditional web and native app experience.
  • User engagement: websites generally reach more users than web apps even though more people spend time on their native apps. The potential to engage more people through websites is one of the sole reasons for creating progressive web applications.
  • Available storage space: not all phones come with large storage space. Some phones have limited storage spaces and downloading tons of native applications only eats up the little storage space. 
  • Data sufficiency: downloading apps cost data and internet users are known to always conserve their data, especially if you don’t use unlimited WiFi networks.

Progressive web applications were created to tackle most of these issues by being:

  • Fast: progressive web apps are known to be extremely fast. From the moment you download a progressive web app to your time interacting with the app, everything happens fast. This is because it doesn’t carry heavy codes like a native app, it’s just a seamless and fast process which enables a great user experience.
  • Extremely engaging: we all know users engage more with websites than native apps, that’s why a progressive web app, which is just a progressive extension of a website, is used to get users even more engaged. You can send notifications and keep up with your users at all time.
  • Integrated and reliable user experience: just because progressive web apps have all the great features of a native app and the good features of a web app, users can enjoy all the benefits of both worlds in a single user-friendly and fast platform. A reliable platform where you can continue to interact with the app even when the network fails. This is made possible with the help of service workers.

Features of a progressive web application

What really makes a progressive web application tick? What are the components that make this a groundbreaking innovation that’s about to take over the way we interact with websites? Basically, what are the features that make a web app a progressive web app

  • Responsive: one beautiful feature of a progressive web app is the ability to be responsive. It can adapt to any platform either desktop or mobile at a very fast pace. Using new responsive web design techniques, progressive apps will work on both mobile and desktop with just a single line of code.
  • Fresh: the app is always automatically updated with the latest updates from the developers. This is made possible by service workers built into it.
  • Safe: one feature or test your platform has to pass to become a progressive web app is that it needs to be secured with an SSL certificate. HTTPS or served via TLS to help prevent snooping.
  • Installable: you can always bookmark a site to create a shortcut when you want to log in later, but a progressive web app should be installable so you can interact with it like a native application.
  • Connectivity independent: with the help of service workers a progressive web application can keep working even when the network goes off. That’s one of the standout features.

How to build a progressive web app

If you’re interested in building a progressive web app, here is a list of things you need to check to achieve your aim.

  1. Web app manifest: this is basically JSON (JavaScript object notation) file that gives meta description of the app.
  2. Icon: this serves as the logo of the app that’s displayed on the application tray of your mobile device.
  3. Service workers: they run as a link between network and application. It is one of the most important components of a progressive web application.
  4. HTTPS Secured: you must make sure your app is SSL secured before it qualifies to become a progressive web app.

The good thing about interacting with a web app is that it offers you the functionality you get from a website and the features you get from a native app. According to an expert, it’s an app that took the right vitamins.

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