Progressive Web Apps

What are Progressive Web Apps?

Progressive Web Apps are very different to what you have used before. They aren't native apps but use the newest web technologies to combine the best of the web and the best of apps. There is no need to install PWAs from an app store because they start working as soon as you visit a website. As you progressively build a relationship with the app over time, it becomes more and more powerful. It loads quickly, even on slow connections, sends relevant push notifications, and adds an icon to your Home screen. It looks like an app, performs like an app and feels like an app. And let’s be honest, when was the last time you downloaded an app? Everyone is tired of downloading apps. ComScore publish statistics of mobile app usage in the US and reported that the average user downloads zero apps in a given month.

Multi-platform support

The problem with native apps is that they only work on one platform. Developers have to create several apps for them to work on Android, Windows, iOS and Mac. This is time consuming and, as such, developers usually create apps for only one platform. This becomes more problematic when the operating system receives an update and developers have to re-develop their app to make it work. Some of you may remember iGasLog which stopped working after Apple updated their iOS and broke the app. With the developers no longer supporting and updating the app, many people lost their logbook data. A very similar scenario is now happening with the new Lifelong Learning Platform developed by the Royal College of Anaesthetists. They moved platforms from a desktop and phone app to an online-only platform. There is no option to import your old logbook data which means that they are lost unless you move to third party logbook (our logbook lets you import your cases from the old RCA Logbook).

Progressive Web Apps work independent of your operating system and run in all major browsers, including Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Apple’s Safari. Your data is safe regardless of what device you are using. As mentioned above, they combine the best of apps and the web, so your data is available and synchronised between all your devices. This also means that your data can be used when you are offline.

Progressive enhancements

The concept is that of building an app with very basic functionality. More advanced features are then added for devices that support them. This progressive enhancement is responsible for the support of PWAs across all devices and browsers. Updates to any of those platforms will not break your app or destroy your data. But it also means that your PWA experience can vary from device to device. For example, in Chrome you will get a notification prompting you to install our PWA when you visit our website. On Apple, you have to install the app manually by going into Safari’s menu and clicking “Add to home screen”.

Who supports Progressive Web Apps?

This new technology is slowly being embraced by all browsers. Steve Jobs had the idea of web apps more than a decade ago but in the end Apple decided to create the App Store instead. With the latest update to iOS 11 in March 2018 they now fully support PWAs on Safari. Microsoft also believe that PWAs are the “key to the web’s future” and brought them to the Microsoft Store on Windows 10 earlier this year. PWAs were invented and created by Google so it’s no surprise that PWAs work best on Google Chrome.