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Captivate Your Audience Using Progressive Web Apps

web development

In a digital economy, user experience (UX) functions like currency. Give people a delightful experience and they’ll gladly exchange their time, money and attention for your product. But give them a bad one and they will ditch your brand without a second thought.

The question is: how exactly do you hack user experience? For many businesses, customer engagement often starts with a website, a mobile app, or other online services. A mediocre website that delivers poor user experience will never endear your product to your target audience. In contrast, apps and websites with excellent UX help enhance the quality of customer engagement, attract more people to your brand, and improve conversion rates.

To ensure superb digital experiences, many forward-looking businesses are embracing progressive web apps (PWA). Progressive web apps function and “feel” like custom native apps but are really just websites on steroids, so to speak. While relatively new as a browser-based solution (ca. 2015), progressive web apps have been called “the future of the Internet” by industry observers, with Gartner predicting that every brand will eventually adopt PWAs as a crucial component of their mobile engagement strategy.

What are Progressive Web Apps?

Typically, there are two ways of reaching mobile consumers. One is to deploy web-based apps which are built using simple browser-focused tools such as HTML and CSS. The other is to engage audiences via native mobile apps which are developed using device-specific languages such as Java (for Android devices) and Objective C (for iOS devices). Until recently, native apps provide significantly better user experiences on virtually every criterion such as interactivity, aesthetics, load speeds, time spent on app, and ease of integration with other apps.

However, following major advances in hardware technology, browser features (service workers, manifests, etc.) operating systems, and web authoring tools (HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, etc.), the development of progressive web apps became possible.

Progressive web apps are web pages or websites that are designed to behave like native apps, delivering seamless and compelling user experiences. Unlike regular web pages, PWAs load quickly, run just like a top-level full-screen app, allow push notifications, and can be stored as an icon on the home screen. PWAs became an official (sort of) app category in 2015 when the term was first coined, with Google providing their key characteristics:

  1. Progressive. PWAs should work regardless of a user’s browser choice.
  2. Responsive. PWAs should fit any device screen: desktop, laptop, netbook, tablet, mobile phone, etc.
  3. Connectivity-independent. PWAs use service workers to run offline or on low quality networks.
  4. App-like. PWA approximates native apps in terms of user experience because the app shell model separates functionality from content.
  5. Fresh. The auto-update process associated with service workers ensures that PWAs are always up-to-date.
  6. Safe. PWAs are served via the secure internet protocol HTTPS to guard against snooping and to prevent tampering of content.
  7. Discoverable. Search engines can find and identify PWAs as apps as a result of W3C manifest and service worker registration scope.
  8. Re-engageable. Ease of use and session triggers make PWAs highly re-engageable. PWAs can be represented as app icons on the home screen, making it easy for user to launch them. PWAs can also receive push notifications.
  9. Installable. Users can readily install PWAs without even visiting an app store.
  10. Linkable.Users can easily share PWAs via URLs.

How Do Progressive Web Apps Work?

Progressive web apps optimize web authoring tools (HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript), standards-compliant internet browsers, and capable hardware (processors) to deliver fast, sophisticated, and seamless user experiences rivalling those of native apps.

Here are the core technologies, features and approaches that enable PWAs to behave much better than ordinary websites:

  1. Responsive Design. This web design framework enables a web page to fit all screen sizes and device form factors.
  2. Application Shell Model. PWAs conform to an application shell architecture wherein the resources for the app’s functionality and its content are handled separately. This enables PWAs to run reliably regardless of network strength, work offline, and load instantly. An app shell contains all the locally cached resources needed to load the “skeleton” or full functionality of the app, mainly via JavaScript. Meanwhile, fresh content is loaded at run-time or dynamically as the user navigates the app.
  3. Service Workers. Service workers are JavaScript files that run independently from the main browser thread and perform tasks such as capturing network requests, retrieving assets from the server, caching resources locally on the client device, and processing push notifications/messages.
  4. Web App Manifests. Web app manifests are instructions or descriptions written in JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) format that specifies how an app should appear to the user and which interactive options are available to the user. Among other things, web app manifests enable PWAs to store icons/bookmarks on the home screen and display default app screens
  5. Instant Loading. Using service workers and web app manifests encapsulated in an app shell architecture, PWAs load instantly on the client screen regardless of Internet connection strength.
  6. Push Notifications. Similar to native apps, PWAs can process push messages which are effective mechanism for driving and sustaining user engagement.
  7. Offline Utility. PWAs can run offline by processing stored data on client-side storage such as caches.
  8. Secure Protocol. PWAs run over HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) where data is encrypted for web content authentication, privacy assurance, protection of data integrity, and prevention of middlemen attacks.

Why Your Brand Needs a Progressive Web App?

  1. The mobile market has grown from big to humongous. Statista estimates that there will be around 4.9 billion mobile users in 2018, with 80% of global internet usage occuring on mobile devices. Meanwhile, offline spending triggered by mobile search and marketing has already surpassed $1 trillion according to Forrester.
  2. The experience economy will be the “in-thing” for the foreseeable future. Millennials are notorious for choosing experience over possessions, and they will account for bulk of the world’s workforce as well as its largest consumer demographic. Needless to say, any service or product that offers memorable experiences will be amply rewarded.
  3. The customer is king. Organizations have recognized the critical role customer perception/emotion plays in the overall performance of their business. That is why more and more businesses are adopting customer-centric strategies and are hiring top talent to perform roles such as customer happiness directors, customer success managers, and even Chief Customer Officers (CCO).
  4. Progressive web apps have been developed with customers and their happiness in mind. PWAs run fast, work well regardless of network conditions, allow higher degrees of interactivity, can work offline, allow push notifications, and come in aesthetically appealing packages. They work on desktops, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones, combining the best behaviors of web-based and native apps
  5. PWAs are business-friendly. Progressive web apps are easy to build and launch, entailing only a fraction of the cost and the time it takes to build, release, and maintain native apps.

So here’s the bottom line: Progressive web apps provide hassle-free and compelling experiences regardless of device or network strength. They run reliably — even offline — and can be accessed easily via an app icon on the home screen. More importantly, PWAs are comparatively easier, faster, and more affordable to develop and deploy.

If PWAs are perfect for both companies and their customers, what more can you ask?

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