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22 February 2020

Progressive Web Applications (PWA) Revolutionize Apps

The discussions start even before the first line of code. Should a native app or a web app be developed? PWA should make the decision easier.

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Native apps are tempting because they offer full access to system resources like NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc. Offline capability is also a huge advantage. Especially the "super well developed" German mobile network puts users of a website to a test of patience.
System resources and offline capability sound tempting, don't they? Then read on, because there's nothing free. This rule also applies in the world of software development.
Because even though the smartphone market is dominated by only two operating systems now, developing native apps is much more time-consuming than developing a website. The problems start with the choice of framework. Do I use React Native or IONIC? And what is this flutter anyway?
It continues with the development environment. You want to develop your app for IOS? Then you need an OSX development environment. Continuous integration and certificate handling are a few more buzzwords that make life difficult for us software developers with native apps.

Mobile First - Progressive Web App to the rescue

A long awaited alternative to native apps are website that behave similarly to native apps. The user should hardly notice that it is a website right now. Rather, the website should act like a real app. Progressive web apps try to address exactly this and promise solutions to some of the problems.

Advantages for the operator

Easy development through well-known programming languages

Javascript, HTML, CSS - Thats It. That's all you need to create a working PWA. But hand on heart, in times of Typescript, Less, Webpack and co. hardly anyone develops in pure Javascript and co.
Shoutouts here go to Preact, who make it extremely easy to develop a Progressive Web Application. It would go beyond the scope of this article to go into detail here.
More information about Preact
Preact Logo

Preact Logo

Continuous Integration (CI) Pipeline - Easy

Compared to developing a native app, setting up a Continuous Integration pipeline for a website is a breeze. Whether it's Bitbucket, GitLab, or Codrops. A detailed explanation of how to set up a Continuous Integration pipeline is beyond the scope of this article, so we recommend this post on setting up a CI pipeline.
CI Vendor

CI Vendor

CI Provider

Fast iteration cycles

Fast iteration cycles are a boon for users and operators. Bugs need to be fixed quickly, new features should be delivered and tested as soon as possible. With a good PWA and a good CI pipeline, nothing stands in the way.

Build Once run everywhere

The PWA offers another advantage. Because not only mobile devices benefit from the features. Google Chrome, Firefox and Co implement the standard like their counterparts on the mobile device.

Advantages for the user

Offline capability

Probably the most attractive plus point of a PWA is its offline capability. You heard me right. A website that works without the internet. The only operation: you must have visited the site once before.
For example, if you visit a website in the evening and are on the train the next day, without stable internet, you will be able to visit the website without internet access at all. Provided of course that the software developer of the website has developed the software correctly.
Service workers are responsible for the offline mode. Service Worker check if there is a network connection. If there is a network connection, the service worker downloads the file from the server. However, if there is no network connection, the service worker checks if the requested resource is available in the cache and delivers it.
PWA Network Graphic

PWA Network Graphic

PWA network graphic

App icon on the homescreen

A great advantage of an app, is the icon on the homescreen. Because the user may see it every day and visit your app more often. Progressive web applications also offer the possibility to place an app icon on the homescreen. Once the user visits the website, they are asked if they want to 'install' the app. Quite simply, a link is placed on the home screen.

Push Notifications

PWAs allow users to easily view push notifications. However, caution is advised here from a user experience point of view, as notifications are not always accepted with thanks.

Disadvantages

This all sounds very good, but unfortunately we haven't found the Holy Grail of app development yet. At least not yet. Although PWAs will probably replace a lot of native apps, there are some use cases where a native app is essential.

Access to system resources

Need access to operating system interfaces, like NFC? Unfortunately, there's currently no way around a native app. But here, too, salvation is on the way. In the near future it will be possible to access some of the system resources (Bluetooth, NFC etc.) from a website. You can find more information about that here: WhatWebCanDo

App store

You want to see your app in the App Store? Again, there's no way around a native app then. Too bad.

Conclusion

In the end, it can be said that both native apps and for PWA currently have a raison d'être. The pros and cons of the technologies should be weighed carefully. Progressive web apps pave the way to unified software development.
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