All you need to know about progressive web apps – 2022

So, have you heard a lot about progressive web apps and Microsoft? Probably a lot. What’s the deal with it? What is exactly a PWA?

Well, the idea goes back to 2015 in an article written by Alex Russell who is a Google engineer. In there, he outlined the requirements for progressive web applications. Since then, the whole industry has been working towards PWAs by integrating this into their browsers. So, Google Chrome supports it and Edge as well and even Safari got a version of it in 2018.

PWA

Now, what makes a progressive web app unique is its ability. So, for the first time, these web applications can work offline and in the background, and that’s done through a thing called service workers. And, you’ll hear a lot of these. You can think of them as little workers that work in the background. They pull in notifications.

PWA also caches material, and that’s how it works offline. When you launch a PWA, it doesn’t look like you’re in the browser, it looks like an application.

It’s actually kind of eery how it works, but you don’t get the browser controls, it’s just standard web application stuff. What makes these things really compelling is when you’re using them, it’s really hard to tell the difference.

For instance, Instagram has a PWA. So, if you go to instagram.com on your Android phone, assuming it’s a modern one, and you log in, you’ll be asked if you want to pin it to your start screen or your application screen and if you would like to receive notifications. Once you do that and then you open that app, it looks just like the regular Instagram application.

Why does Google and Microsoft see this as the future of app development? Microsoft, back in build 2015, talked about this idea too that applications don’t have much longevity.

It gets real expensive to maintain these apps. Now, on average, it probably takes around $45000, to $50000, if you want to hire a dedicated app developer. Now, some work on a partial fee, per month, to maintain the app, while others just require a flat out salary.

$50000, a year is not cheap, at all. In fact, that’s kind of cost prohibitive, so it’s very expensive for small organizations to make an application, especially if they want to put it on iOS and Android.

Remember, most developers still target iOS first, with Android coming second, despite the fact that Android is the larger market share. So, this really comes down to an issue of cost. But, there’s actually a little bit more going on here.

For instance, why is Google pushing this? They have a pretty awesome store. Well, it’s actually a really good point. Google’s business model, though, is actually on the web. It’s not really an app store, nor is it selling Android devices. Android is worried about you getting to use Google services, than going on the web. If every company created their own native application, and it pulls data direct from the site without going through the Web, well that actually hurts Google’s bottom line.

Don’t forget apps really don’t count against web traffic. So, Google actually wants this to happen because, in using a progressive web application, you’re using the web, you’re using analytics, you’re using their ad stuff. You’re getting everything that counts against SEO, as well, so it shows up in search. So, this all benefits Google. They don’t really care about the app store, in that sense. What they want are people back on the Web. So, not only does this extend the life of the World Wide Web, if you want to use a data term, but it actually gives it more life.

Now, as to why Microsoft wants it, it should be pretty obvious. They have the app gap problem and this potentially solves that. How will PWAs affect the Microsoft Store? Alright, so Microsoft talked about this, and it’s really interesting. And, this is the difference with PWAs. Right now, if you’re, say, on an Android device and you open your Chrome browser or even Edge browser and you go to twitter.com, log in, and it will ask you pin it to the app screen.

The problem there is you can still have the Instagram app installed and then have a PWA installed, as well, living side by side, and there’s sort of a discoverability issue.

Microsoft is going to put PWAs directly into the store and how they do this is through the universal Windows platform. They basically have a bridge that supports this. So, they’re taking PWA, wrapping in the appx wrapper, putting into the store, but they also get other features there.

For instance, you get live tiles, you can get Cortana, and you can get in-app purchases, if there were those there. You also get deeper analytics. You get discoverability because the consumer is going to basically launch the app store or the Microsoft store.

They’re going to search for, say, Uber or Twitter, and guess what’s going to be there? An application. Now, it’s going to be technically PWA, but will the consumer know? No, cause there’s no Chrome. They’re not launching it, so it doesn’t look like a web browser, it looks like an application.

But, there’s more to this. So, how are you going to get PWAs in the store?

Do they have to go to each company and go, can we do this? No, they don’t. Since these are just websites, all they’re doing is putting websites in the store, they don’t need their permission. And Microsoft has already said they’re going to use a thing called Bing Crawler. They’ve been looking at PWA sites that are live right now and if they meet certain standards, they’re going to be putting these in the store automatically.

So, we can expect probably a couple hundred, maybe even a thousand of these things to all of a sudden show up in the store. And, then once it gets even more advanced, that is the quality is there, and they get user feedback, and this is working well, Bing Crawler will be able to package these things up and put it into the store, automatically with no one there.

Now since no money is being transpired here, Microsoft is not making money on ads through these things, it’s all just pulling in a website from a company, there’s no reason there that a company needs its permission.

Twitter is Twitter. If Twitter wanted to deny a PWA on Windows, they would be effectively saying, you can’t go to twitter.com on your web browser, which would be insane.

And, so this is the big difference here, Microsoft is treating PWAs as first-class citizens, as they say. They’re putting them right in the store and it’s going to be there for users but without the discoverability problem of having to go to the website, log in and then pin it to your start screen. It’s a very unique thing and it should be happening for Redstone in the coming weeks.

Are there any big name-brand apps out there that are PWAs and are developers embracing this? So, the answer here will surprise you. But there are a lot of PWAs already out there, including Google Maps. Yes, this already works in Edge on Android. You can pin it to your start screen and have a PWA of Google Maps that uses your location and works just like the app itself. That means, in theory, yes, Project Andromeda will have Google Maps, which is really enticing.

You have a bunch of services already out there, even Pinterest has a PWA. All the major companies are embracing this, because again, companies hate paying developers. Sorry. They would rather just have a web developer, basically make a PWA website and call it a day.

A PWA has to be thought of as, first, living on the Web. As an example outlook.com is both an email service that’s on the Web, but, of course, there are apps for it. Now, is Microsoft going to take its app and convert it to PWA? No. What they did do though was convert outlook.com into supporting PWA.

So, again, launch your Android phone up, use Chrome, use Edge or go to outlook.com and now add that to your home screen and re-launch it and you’re going to quickly see it looks just like an Outlook app. It’s very impressive. It is full PWA-compliant.

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Conclusion about PWA

PWA now seems to be the future of application development as it is cheap and requires low maintenance.