The app as PWA-Pro and Contra


Introduction to Progressive Web Apps, Part 1 The app as PWA-Pro and Contra

Progressive web apps, or PWAs for short, combine app development and outsourcing web design. This creates a method that is as simple as it is efficient to quickly develop apps. Compared to native apps, this results in some advantages – but also disadvantages.

Companies on the topic

Applications such as online photo editing Photopea show the possibilities of PWA technology.Applications such as online photo editing Photopea show the possibilities of PWA technology.

(Picture: Rentrop / Photopea)

When a company wants to provide content, information or entertainment content on a smartphone or tablet, there is hardly a way to get past its own app. In addition to the web offer, presence in the app stores of Apple, Google and Amazon is therefore mandatory, as it almost automatically ensures a better perception of the offer by mobile users.

The skilful online presence now comprises three pillars: So far, a mobile website and a native app had to be offered in addition to the website of the offer. Progressive web apps put an end to this and merge the app and mobile page into one unit that combines the advantages of both systems.

Formerly everything was app store

In the past, many online providers relied on classic native apps in the app stores to offer their content: for this purpose, a kind of own browser was developed in which only the offer of this one provider ran. This procedure is complex and relatively expensive, in addition, the review processes of Apple, Google and Co.cause a delay in necessary updates.

Progressive web apps can circumvent these restrictions because they are basically pure mobile pages – which, if necessary, behave like apps while bypassing the annoying app store reviews: they can be installed directly from the browser on the homescreen like regular apps and work offline.

Progressive Web Apps save costs

One of the biggest advantages of Progressive Web apps (PWA) is therefore obvious: compared to fully native apps for iOS, Android and possibly more exotic mobile systems, development costs are saved here, which eliminates costly multi-trackness from the mobile side and system-specific apps.

The contents of the PWA are created on the web server and delivered by it, a separate app is no longer needed. Instead, the PWA accesses system functions via special system libraries of the smartphone or tablet. As a result, the PWA is able to use specific functions operating systems-such as geolocation, contact information, push notifications, sensors or even microphone and camera – like the browser wrapper before.

Apple’s iOS system has supported this technique since iOS 11.4, Android has been able to run these apps since Chrome 57. By the way, PWAs can also be used on Windows 10 with the new Chromium-based edge browser, which is closely related to Chrome, and there is also a PWA framework for macOS. Basically, the functionality depends on the browser used, but generally platform-independent.

More than just a browser

The mobile ZDF media library can work as a PWA at the same time.The mobile ZDF media library can work as a PWA at the same time.

(Image: Rentrop / ZDF)

But how is all this possible? Basically, a Progressive Web app is initially a mobile site. This makes it backwards compatible with browsers that do not yet support the technology and works here like any regular website. The magic comes into play when a modern browser operating system combo is used: namely, then the progressive web app can be pulled like a favorite on the homescreen of the smartphone or tablet-and here is significantly slimmer than the native app.

If the PWA is opened via the homescreen, the browser disappears, making the mobile page look like a complete app, including offline functionality. A good example of this technique is, for example, the PWA application of the ZDF media Library. Here is the URL “ must be entered” in the Browser. What initially looks like a regular mobile page becomes a PWA the moment the application is set to the homescreen.

PWA plays out advantages in mobile sites and applications

A PWA must be placed on the home screen.A PWA must be placed on the home screen.

(Image: Rentrop / Twitter)

Here the website looks like an app and also works similarly. Also services such as Uber, Telegram, Twitter, Spotify or are available as PWAs. But progressive web apps are really interesting where real functions are needed.

Even simple games are possible as PWA.Even simple games are possible as PWA.

(Image: Rentrop / Pacman-PWA)

Online photo editing Photopea shows what is possible with Progressive Web apps. Even smaller casual games are no problem, as Pacman PWA demonstrates. By the way, the page offers a good overview of existing progressive apps

Disadvantages of PWAs

Applications such as online photo editing Photopea show the possibilities of PWA technology.Applications such as online photo editing Photopea show the possibilities of PWA technology.

(Picture: Rentrop / Photopea)

In short: There are many good reasons to rely on PWAs: In addition to cost and time savings during development, PWAs enable bypassing the time – consuming app store review process and also save memory on the user’s device. So why shouldn’t a PWA always be used?

On the one hand, special attention must be paid to the availability of the web infrastructure as well as caching technologies that allow content to be made available offline. On the other hand, PWAs are of course not suitable for every application. For example, applications that are programmed very close to hardware are not well suited as PWA. Even very extensive and completely offline usable apps are not suitable for PWA use, as they do not bring any advantages for the user.

PWAs are not from the app store

Although PWA frees many applications from the clutches of app stores, this is not necessarily an advantage. Users first search for their apps in the App Store or Play Store, if there is no result here, the product is checked or, at worst, switched to the competitor. Apart from some malicious scams in the past, the app stores are also a clean and safe environment for users through their review processes-a factor that is eliminated at PWAs.

Last but not least, the installation of a PWA is no more complex than the installation of an app from the app store, but a function known only to a few users is required here. Here, there is a need for communication if you want to switch completely to PWA. And so the parallel operation of a native app should be indispensable for the foreseeable future.


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