From the Beginning of the Web to Progressive Web Apps. How Did We Get Here?

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by Lilly Thuma | Last Updated: Feb 4, 2020

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) seem to be the new buzzword in the tech world. In fact major companies (think Twitter, Starbucks, Uber etc.) have been following this trend, and have seen incredible results. But, where did PWAs come from? What makes them progressive? And what even is a web app? Are PWAs really only four years old? These are all questions that have gotten brushed under the rug in the hype of this new technology. So, let's take a step back and breakdown what a web app is and how we got to this point. Web Pages To fully understand what a web app is, we have to start at the basics: a web page. Web pages were the first step in the direction toward web apps, and we have come a long way from the first web page. Before we had the web we know and love today, we basically just had a screen with words that didn’t move, and you couldn’t really do anything with the web page except read it. Personally, that sounds pretty boring to me. Thankfully, technology advanced and we were able to add pictures, movie, audio, and all of the stuff that can keep us entertained on the web for hours. Over the years this has evolved to the complex and intricate web pages that businesses have to have to be successful. Web Apps So we made complicated web pages. Why did we need web apps? Well, while web pages work perfectly fine, they aren’t always the easiest way for users to access information. Web apps make life easier for both users and for programmers. Prior to web apps, apps could only exist on a desktop computer. For obvious reasons, this wasn’t exactly convenient for a lot of people to use, especially with the increased use in smartphones and tablets. The need for being able to access apps on the go, and gaining easier access to the web is what brought the two worlds of the web and apps together. The idea of web apps was first seen in Java Language in 1999, and then advanced in 2005 with the creation of Ajax, introduced by Jesse James Garret. This was a new approach to web apps that allowed users to work on the web faster because it made it possible for servers to send and receive data without interfering with the current web page. Basically web apps allowed for one section of content on the web page to change without having to reload the whole page. This technique was first built for internet explorer, and was then quickly adopted to Opera, Mozilla, and Safari as well. Web apps were also Steve Jobs’ original plan for the iPhone back in 2007, in fact, when he first introduced the iPhone he didn’t want any native apps to be installed (ironic because the Apple App Store has now become the most popular place to download native apps). However, technology is now circling back around and web apps are climbing in popularity. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) As we know, technology is constantly advancing and the next revolutionary idea is always right around the corner. So what is next for web apps? PWAs - and no, we aren’t just calling it progressive to make it sound better. A Progressive Web App (PWA) is an evolution of web app technology, and is essentially the best of both worlds between a web app and a native mobile app. It basically allows you to install a web app on home screen and have it function like a native app without the hassle of the app store. PWAs also work faster and are available offline because it is always caching data to provide a better user experience. Plus, PWAs take away the pain of having to create an app for android and iOS  since they work across all operating systems and form factors. PWAs were first introduced by Google in 2015, and since have gained support from all the major tech players (Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Apple and Mozilla). In the Mobile Matters podcast episode with Aaron Gustafson, Principal Program Manager, he speaks to how beneficial PWAs are in enhancing the users experience and moving companies forward. What’s Next? There is currently a huge shift in technology, and more companies are including PWAs in their overall digital strategy with some even moving from native mobile apps to PWAs. In addition to the technical benefits of PWAs, they also make sense from a consumer engagement standpoint. Overall engagement increases an average of 134 percent when using PWAs, and some brands have even surpassed that and increased engagement by 400 percent. As for what is coming next in the app world, I don’t have the exact answer for that, but I can say with confidence that the future is trending away from native apps and toward progressive web apps.

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