What Are Progressive Web Apps?

When you set out to build a mobile app, one of the first questions you have to answer is: iOS or Android?

This goes beyond simple personal preference. Choosing your main operating system will also determine your app’s environment. Will your app be coded with Java, Objective-C, Swift? Will you be submitting your app to the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store? Most importantly, will you be catering to the Android or the iOS crowd?

Progressive web apps (PWAs) try to bypass those questions. These apps live on the web, making them accessible to any device that can browse the internet—regardless of operating system. Unlike web apps, though, PWAs can work offline and “stay” on your home screen like a native app. PWAs strive to look and feel like any other app you’ve installed on your phone, but without the hassle of installation or constraint of app store regulations.

Why Are PWAs So Exciting?

As a new app developer, why should you care about progressive web apps? The ability to host your own app and deliver this to users over the web presents tons of advantages.

  • PWAs don’t need OS-specific programming languages: You can build your own progressive web app using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. No need to learn a new language if or when you want to switch your focus between operating systems.
  • PWAs can work for anyone: Progressive web apps can work for any kind of user, thanks to support from companies like Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, and recently, Apple.
  • PWAs can work anywhere: Their underlying technology allows PWAs to work with slow connections or even offline. They can work regardless of a user’s geographic location, browser, or device.
  • PWAs are responsive: Speaking of devices, you won’t need to create custom versions of your app for different screen sizes. Nor will you need to reinvent your app whenever a new device comes along. PWAs will work with any device, from desktop to tablet to mobile phone—or even other web-enabled devices that will come along.
  • PWAs are agile and secure: Any user will always be working with the most up-to-date version of a progressive web app. PWAs use HTTPS for delivery, adding a valuable layer of security to your app’s operations.
  • PWAs can be distributed easily: You won’t need to work within the limits set by a particular app store. Any updates you want to roll out can be applied instantly, no matter how extensive.

With a progressive web app, you can deliver a consistently updated, full-featured experience that works across platforms. You can reach more users and serve your app more efficiently.

Progressive web apps can work offline

How Do Progressive Web Apps Work?

Progressive web apps get their name from the approach used by their underlying technology. These apps apply modern web technologies “progressively,” meaning they adapt to the capabilities of your user’s system. If they’re using old browsers that don’t support newer features, users will still get a pared-down version of your app that’s perfectly usable.

How do PWAs work offline? Think of PWAs as a bundle of technologies: web APIs and technologies that  work together to keep the app running regardless of internet connectivity. To illustrate, here are some of the tech behind PWAs:

  • The Web App Manifest File gives users details like names and icons that your app will use when installed to a desktop or mobile home screen.
  • Technology like IndexedDB and Cache API store the necessary data on your device, eliminating the need to constantly pull these details from the web.
  • Service workers and the Fetch API streamline the process of requesting data and performing tasks in the background

All of these technologies run on your application’s servers, to be delivered directly to users. There’s no need to package these for specific platforms’ app stores. In fact, since Manifest Files are easily crawled by search engines, your app can be discovered by users even without the help of app stores. Distribution becomes much easier.

Illustration of how responsive a progressive web app can be

The Future of Apps?

Development and support for progressive web apps has been growing for years now. Large ecosystems like Microsoft’s Windows and Google’s Chrome OS are rolling out support for PWAs, from desktop installation to PWA-specific listings on their search engines and app stores. With Apple’s recent announcement of support for PWA-enabling features like service workers, PWAs can now cross over to iOS and macOS systems, too.

The good news is that you can also jump on the PWA train. There are tons of resources for learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript online, but even if you can’t or don’t want to dive into programming, you still have options. Top app builders and app maker services can help you build PWAs, often through user-friendly interfaces. You can check out our reviews for recommendations.

For a great start, take a look at two of our top picks, Swiftic and GoodBarber. Both help you build powerful, feature-rich PWAs that can tap into your mobile device’s capabilities. These platforms will let you create apps that send push notifications, use camera functions, integrate with social media apps, and more, all without typing a line of code.

Momentum continues to build for PWAs. As web technologies improve and more developers try to bridge desktop, web, and mobile, the agility and versatility of progressive web apps will only be more valuable. Luckily, there are many top-notch app builders that will let you launch your own PWAs, even if you don’t have programming skills. Check out our app builder reviews to pick the best service for your needs, and step into the future of apps today!