2019 — The Year of Progressive Web Apps

For years now, the mobile app community has been tied to two platforms, Android and iOS. Both platforms have formed a duopoly that has effectively kept other mobile platforms from competing. However, 2019 will be different. It has to be different. 2019 will be the year of progressive web apps.

What are Progressive Web Apps?

What are Progressive Web Apps?

Accordingly to Wikipedia, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are “web applications that load like regular web pages or websites but can offer the user functionality such as working offline, push notifications, and device hardware access traditionally available only to native mobile applications.” In other words, they are applications that are made on the web, but can be leveraged on devices such as mobile phones for offline use.

This technology is not new. It has been in the works for years. In fact, the idea of having standard web technologies was front and center at Macworld 2007 when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone. At the time of the announcement in January 2007, there wasn’t an app store, nor was there an SDK for developers. In his comments, Jobs said:

“The full Safari engine is inside of iPhone. And so, you can write amazing Web 2.0 and Ajax apps that look exactly and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone. And these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services. And guess what? There’s no SDK that you need! You’ve got everything you need if you know how to write apps using the most modern web standards to write amazing apps for the iPhone today. So developers, we think we’ve got a very sweet story for you. You can begin building your iPhone apps today.”
Steve Jobs at Macworld 2007

Needless to say, this didn’t happen. In November of that same year, Steve Jobs announced the SDK and the App Store. That was the birth of native apps as we know it and the death of web apps as Steve Jobs envisioned. Well, not quite…

Fast forward to today and now there are companies such as Twitter, Forbes, Fandango, and Alibaba who have leveraged the power of progressive web apps. In the case of Alibaba, PWAs have allowed the company to bridge the gap between their native app and web users resulting in increases on both iOS and Android users. Other companies such as Flipkart have noticed that engagement and conversion levels have increased greatly. Again, this is due to progressive web apps.

Ease of Development

Let us consider Company A. Company A has a website and mobile apps for iOS and Android. For the website, they have to ensure that it works on a desktop, tablet, and mobile phone. In the case of Company A there is a need for multiple teams, each with different coding backgrounds to compensate for iOS (Swift), Android (Java), and web (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.).

Company B uses progressive web apps. They maintain one platform which is app-like, responsive, connectivity independent, and installable. The coding team would consist of web developers who will build the web app in a platform-agnostic manner.

While both Company A and Company B will present similar functions to the user, the development and maintenance will be much easier for Company B. Plus, the content will stay current, safe, and consistent since there is only a single point of intake.

Principles behind Progressive Web Apps

PWAs must follow the following guidelines:

Progressive — Work for every user, regardless of browser choice because they’re built with progressive enhancement as a core tenet.

Responsive — Fit any form factor: desktop, mobile, tablet, or forms yet to emerge.

Connectivity independent — Service workers allow work offline, or on low quality networks.

App-like — Feel like an app to the user with app-style interactions and navigation.

Fresh — Always up-to-date thanks to the service worker update process.

Safe — Served via HTTPS to prevent snooping and ensure content hasn’t been tampered with.

Discoverable — Are identifiable as “applications” thanks to W3C manifests[6] and service worker registration scope allowing search engines to find them.

Re-engageable — Make re-engagement easy through features like push notifications.

Installable — Allow users to “keep” apps they find most useful on their home screen without the hassle of an app store.

Linkable — Easily shared via a URL and do not require complex installation.

Breaking Up the Duopoly

Apple and Android

With companies leveraging PWAs and the technology behind them maturing, it is not a crazy idea to believe that with the right backing, users and manufacturers will warm up to the idea. On one hand, Android and iOS users have enjoyed the accessibility of the App Store for downloading their apps. But this has killed off companies from the mobile arena such as Microsoft, Blackberry, and Palm who just can’t compete the app gap.

Progressive web apps would help a third player in the mobile OS world to emerge. All signs point to Microsoft who keep teasing a Surface Phone. If the lack of a viable App Store was the only thing keeping people away, the option of using PWAs should invite people back to the Windows Mobile OS.

And Then There was 2019

What makes 2019 so important when it comes to progressive web apps? Here are my top reasons for optimism:

1) Microsoft and Google have been backing PWAs heavily in 2018. Microsoft for obvious reasons and Google went as far as calling it the future of app development. If the release of Chrome 70 is any indication of the future, it seems that progressive web apps will become a major focus moving forward.

2) Apple has finally accepted PWAs. There was a time where it seemed that they wouldn’t. After all, their AppStore is the best. But trends have showed that there is an interest in the technology. Apple cannot afford to have a superior experience on other products and thus are forced to accept this growing trend. By adopting it now and making it work on all their platforms including Safari, they stay fresh and on top of the market. Plus, their investment into PWAs will spark other companies to follow suit.

3) More and more companies are shifting towards PWAs and are seeing success. Users of Pinterest’s PWA spend 40% more time on the site compared to the previous mobile website. Ad revenue rates also increased by 44%, and core engagements shot up 60%. At the time of writing this article, Mobile Marketer is reporting that online retailer Luxmart doubled its mobile conversion rate to 1.24% from 0.6% after introducing a progressive web app. Now, the Luxmart PWA’s performance ranking, as measured by a Google benchmarking tool, jumped to 99% from 67% after the PWA was launched, per the announcement. PWA standards compliance now measures a perfect score of 100%, according to Google.

4) Web developers are now engaged in progressive web apps development. This is no longer a proof of concept or a side project. PWAs have been proven to work and the industry is putting effort behind it. With the major tech companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft backing it, developers now see the need to develop following the PWA guidelines. Instead of building apps to work on specific platforms, they are now coding once and deploying to all.

Progressive web apps are the future. The bigger question remains is when will it be fully accepted. If 2018 is any indication, it will be soon — possibly as soon as 2019. That is what I am banking on and I think you should too.