It’s really cool to work as a software engineer and see new technology trends as they are happening before the rest of the general public adopts them en masse. A major trend in app development is that companies are moving away from native apps and toward progressive web apps (PWA). This trend first began around 7 years ago, but even 2-3 years ago PWAs could not come close to rivaling native apps in performance, look and feel. Finally, with the development and adoption of many new standards and technologies, the future of apps is here.
Which one is the native app? Can you tell?
The native app is on the left and the web app is on the right.
Yeah, twitter moved some of the icons around in their Web App, but both apps have the same slick, clean UI, smooth scrolling, fast performance, etc.
What are native apps?
They’re those things you download and install to your phone from the apple or android app store.
Why is the industry moving away from them?
When you download an app, it takes up a bunch of data from your data plan. When you install an app it takes up a ton of space on your phone, leaving you with less space to fit your photos, videos, texts, etc. Apps are constantly asking you to update them, which takes a toll on on your data plan and it’s also annoying for the user to have to constantly update them. If you’re in an app on a certain page (a certain facebook page perhaps…or maybe you have a certain location at a certain zoom level on the google maps app, etc) and you want to send your friend a link to it…you can’t in a native app. All of these problems are solved with web apps.
The numbers on the left will all be zeros with a Web App…because there is nothing to install. You’re just going to a web site!
What is a Progressive Web App?
A progressive web app is an app that looks, feels, and performs exactly like a native app, so much so that the user has no idea that he is really on a website in a browser (behind the scenes). The user can choose to use the web app in a browser by simply navigating to the site, so he can send links, etc; or he can create an icon on his phone that looks just like any other app. It opens the website with no browser window around it (but is really going to a website behind the scenes) and it looks and feels just like a normal native app.
How do I try this out?! To create the web app icon on an iPhone, open up safari, navigate to a pwa-compliant site (e.g. Twitter, Pinterest), and click that button at the bottom of the screen that is a square with an up arrow, then click ‘add to home screen’. On Android phones, in Chrome, click the 3 dot menu icon, then ‘add to home screen’.
Twitter, Pinterest, and some others have excellent web apps (although they claim they’re still in beta). They look, feel, and perform just like native apps. Lyft (ride.lyft.com), Uber (m.uber.com), Starbucks (preview.starbucks.com), Google Maps (google.com/maps), and Instagram still have some work to do yet as they are still officially only in beta and not yet feature-complete. Google’s feature-complete web apps (maps, gmail, etc) should be released in mid to late 2018.
If you want to get a better idea of what a PWA is and why it’s such a big deal, you can watch this youtube video.
Why do software engineers like Web Apps?
The future of apps is almost here
Some of the simpler apps can perfectly imitate native apps, but for a few of the more complex apps, the user experience is good, but not quite exactly the same as a native app (such that the user thinks it’s a native app). There are still many kinks being ironed out as we speak to perfect the user experience, but they are being fixed at an incredibly fast rate due to the enormous amount of support and resources being thrown behind this effort from the giants in the tech industry, including Google (the leader), Apple, and Microsoft. I would predict that most apps will be web apps, not native apps, within the next 1 to 3 years. Things are moving fast in the software engineering world and it’s very exciting.