Already the Next Big Thing?

Until we started a collaboration with Mike Vaughan to develop one for an eco-tourism operator just north of the SF Bay Area, I was not familiar with the term “Progressive Web Application”. It turns out that it describes mobile applications that are delivered via Web browsers and that are built using common web technologies including HTML, CSS and JavaScript. While not distributed from one of the popular App Stores, PWAs can do much of what native mobile applications can do, and perform almost as well as native mobile applications, due to the ongoing evolution in the architecture of the web. If you visit this very useful page called “What Web Can Do Today” on your mobile device, you will see that your browser in fact has many native capabilities.

Google has really pushed the adoption of this model for mobile app development, and provides a page of orientation to how they work on their developer web site. As a result, Android supports PWAs somewhat better than does iOS. Two of the key pieces of web architecture enabling PWAs are Service Workers and Web App Manifest specs; iOS added support for these architecture components in its spring 2018 iOS 11.3 release.

To briefly summarize what Google’s developer site provides an extensive web page for, Service Workers handle interactions between the device and the site for operations that will be exposed through a web page or require user interaction. Quoting now “Today, they already include features like push notifications and background sync. In the future, service workers might support other things like periodic sync or geofencing.”

For the not so technical reader, in programming we use the term “manifest” to refer to a file that gets installed with some application or service and stores important metadata about the installation and operation of the application or service. A Web App manifest is such a file that gets deployed with a PWA and stores information such as the application’s description, how it should be displayed, language information, etc.

For quite a while we were caught in the mobile app development conundrum of whether to recommend that clients authorize us to build native applications which needed to be developed separately for iOS and Android, or to build hybrid applications using one of several frameworks like Apache Cordova/Adobe PhoneGap or Ionic which always seemed to be a compromise. It seems to me that for most common business scenarios, at least, PWAs are the right answer.

If you want more information or want to discuss how we might build a PWA for you, please leave a comment or contact us by email. 

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