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Progressive Web Apps: A Beginner's Guide

Progressive Web Apps
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Progressive-Web-Apps
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Cross-Platform
Shamsul Haque Zama
Shamsul
Sr. Ruby on Rails Engineer
January 19, 2024

A Progressive Web Application (PWA) is a versatile web application designed to function as both a web page and a mobile app across various devices. PWAs are crafted to provide a seamless native UI experience even under low-quality internet conditions, supporting operation with both online and offline connections. Originally introduced by Google in 2015, a PWA is essentially a web page developed using JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. Furthermore, it can be published on platforms like the Google and Microsoft stores.

A Native App is a software application crafted in a dedicated programming language tailored to a specific device platform, be it IOS or Android. PWAs, on the other hand, are developed with functionalities such as push notifications and offline capabilities. They leverage modern APIs for enhanced capabilities, ensuring reliability and the flexibility to install on various devices.

PWAs leverage the vast web ecosystem, encompassing plugins, community support, and the inherent simplicity of deploying and maintaining a website, in stark contrast to the challenges associated with developing a native application. This enables the swift and straightforward development of PWAs.

PWAs can be installed on your home screen, operate seamlessly offline from your last session, and provide an experience and features comparable to native apps.

Attributes of Progressive Web Applications (PWAs)

Consider the following aspects when developing a Progressive Web Application (PWA):

Responsiveness

Progressive Web Application (PWA) is optimized to provide an optimal user experience based on the screen size of the device on which it is being accessed. In other words, PWAs are designed to be responsive, adapting seamlessly to various screen sizes, such as those found on desktops, laptops, tablets, or smartphones. This adaptability ensures that the PWA's interface and layout are well-suited and visually appealing regardless of the device being used, enhancing usability and accessibility for a diverse range of users.

Installable

It emphasises their ability to be installed on a device's home screen. When a user chooses to install a PWA, it essentially creates a shortcut or icon on the device's home screen, similar to native mobile apps. This installation process eliminates the need for users to access the application through a web browser, offering a more app-like experience.
Once installed on the home screen, the PWA becomes easily accessible with a simple tap, just like traditional apps. This convenience enhances user engagement by providing quick and direct access to the application, promoting a seamless and efficient user experience. Furthermore, the ability to install PWAs on the home screen contributes to the perception of PWAs as a bridge between web and native applications, combining the reach of the web with the usability of native apps.

Independent Connectivity

User engagement remained consistent in a mobile app even when the user was offline. Instead of redirecting users to a default offline page, which might disrupt their experience and leave them disconnected, the emphasis is on providing a more consistent and seamless interaction.

In practical terms, this implies designing the app to continue offering meaningful content, functionality, or features even when there is no internet connection. This approach ensures that users can still interact with the app, access relevant information, or perform certain tasks without interruption. 

The goal is to avoid a jarring transition when users go offline and, instead, keep them engaged with the app's content or functionalities, fostering a sense of continuity and usability even in less-than-ideal connectivity scenarios. This strategy contributes to an overall positive user experience and can be particularly beneficial in scenarios where users may frequently encounter intermittent or unreliable internet connections.

Discoverability

As a website, one key benefit lies in its inherent searchability on search engines. Unlike native applications, which are not discoverable through search engine queries, websites can be easily found and accessed by users through search engine results.

This searchability enhances the visibility and accessibility of the website, making it more discoverable by a broader audience. Users can initiate searches on popular search engines, and if the website is optimized for search engine rankings, it stands a better chance of appearing in relevant search results.

In contrast, native applications often require users to find and download them through specific app stores, limiting their discoverability. The advantage of being searchable on search engines positions websites favorably in terms of reaching and attracting a larger audience, contributing to their accessibility and overall visibility on the internet.

Appearance

Creating a user interface for a mobile app that closely resembles the appearance and experience of a typical application. To achieve this, certain elements such as an app icon and a splash screen play crucial roles.

An app icon serves as a visual representation of the application and appears on the user's device, making it easily identifiable among other installed apps. A well-designed and distinctive app icon contributes to the app's brand recognition and ensures that users can quickly locate and access it on their device.

Additionally, the mention of a splash screen reflects the intention to enhance the app's overall user experience. A splash screen is a graphical element that appears when the app is launched, providing users with a visual indication that the app is loading. This brief visual introduction not only helps in creating a professional and polished impression but also contributes to the immersive feel of using a native app.

Cross Platform

Unlike native applications, which are specifically designed for a particular operating system or platform, PWAs are crafted to function seamlessly on various browsers and systems. The emphasis is on universality, ensuring compatibility across a wide range of web browsers and operating systems.

The concept of developing PWAs as web apps first implies that users can access and use these applications through any standard web browser before considering installation. This approach prioritizes accessibility, allowing users to experience the app without the commitment of installation. Users can interact with the PWA in their preferred browser, testing its features and functionality before deciding whether to install it on their device.

Differences Between PWAs and Native Apps

Development Cost

PWAs offer cost advantages over Native Apps. Developing a native app requires learning specific programming languages and building separate versions for each device type, such as Android and iOS. In contrast, opting for an experienced professional to handle PWA development can be a more cost-effective solution.

In the future, allocating resources for app maintenance and updates will necessitate significant investments of both time and money.

For a PWA, a unified codebase can be utilized across various platforms, saving time as there's no need to build it from the ground up; you can adapt your existing website configuration.

If you opt to hire a developer for a PWA, you'll only need one, unlike native apps where you may need up to two, depending on the platform requirements.

Visibility

Native apps are not indexable by search engines; they can only be discovered through the App Store or Play Store websites.

In contrast to native apps, PWAs function similarly to websites, allowing them to be indexed by search engines. This feature enhances their visibility and improves their ranking in search results.

Safety

In today's context, running a website necessitates encryption through an SSL certificate, providing an additional layer of security. Considering PWAs are essentially websites transformed into apps, they inherently benefit from increased security as they operate on HTTPS. HTTPS employs security protocols facilitating a secure exchange of data between the client and server, safeguarding against tampering.

Securing native apps involves implementing multiple security measures, such as incorporating multi-factor authentication and other relevant strategies.

Installation and Download

Users must download and install native apps from an app store, undergoing a process where they navigate through and approve various permissions before the installation is complete.

Contrastingly, PWAs eliminate the need for such steps. Users can simply bookmark the PWA from their browser and add it to their home screen with just a few taps.

Conclusion

This article serves as an introduction to progressive web apps, offering just a glimpse of their potential. There are numerous ways to further enhance the app-like experience users desire, such as supporting push notifications through the Push API, ensuring re-engagement, or utilizing IndexedDB and background syncing to optimize the offline experience.

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