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PWAs: Powering Next Gen Business on the Web

Progressive web apps are well-positioned to deliver the functionality and ease of use needed in critical business apps.

It’s an “appy” world we live in — not just to improve our personal lives but also to reach new levels of business efficiency. An analysis by Okta found the number of software apps deployed by large firms across all industries worldwide has increased 68% over the past four years, reaching an average of 129 apps per company by the end of 2018.

While business apps are experiencing explosive growth, there is a disconnect between the apps being created and the tools employees need. In fact, 90% of C-suite executives believe their company pays attention to people’s needs when introducing new technology, but only about half (53%) of staff say the same, according to PwC Research.

Businesses want to deliver the technology employees need to thrive, so why are they coming up short? Even after overcoming common cultural resistance to change, businesses must contend with developing apps that are reliable, consistent, secure and — most of all — user-friendly. 

This is no easy feat when you consider: 

  • Bring your own device (BYOD) is the new norm: The majority (69%) of IT decision-makers favor BYOD as a positive addition to any workplace policy because it saves workers time. Similarly, more than half (53%) of all surveyed workers report feeling more productive when they have their own devices.
  • Remote work is on the rise: More than two-thirds of people around the world work away from the office at least once every week. 
  • Employees are away from their desks: More than 80% of the global workforce does “deskless” work that requires them to be out in the field (i.e. factory floors, in hospitals, on the road).

Bottom line: the way we work is evolving and the technology we use needs to change with it. 

The rise of the PWA 

Businesses need to rethink not only what apps they deploy, but how they deploy them to create digital experiences that are consistent, reliable, portable, and easy-to-use. Progressive web apps (PWAs) are well-positioned to do just that by bridging the gap between desktop and mobile development to deliver greater functionality and usability across modern browsers and devices. 

Just like native apps, PWAs can be installed onto the homescreen (or desktop), but they live on the web, not the app stores. They can therefore be optimized for search engines, can be shared via a URL, and can deliver updates to users as soon as they are available. They are built on web technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) but have the additional benefit of offering app-like functionality such as a fullscreen view, a better offline experience, even push notifications.

Traditionally, organizations have relied on native mobile apps and web apps to deliver new tools to employees. The downside is native mobile apps require multiple builds across platforms and have high abandonment rates and traditional web apps lack the functionality to make them feel app-like (i.e. installable, accessible when offline).

PWAs relieve limitations of native mobile apps and traditional web apps by combining the best of both. Offering a consistent and responsive experience across all devices, PWAs unlock the potential of advanced features and deliver the intelligent experiences users expect.

Today, major technology leaders like Microsoft, Slack, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are all deploying PWAs. Microsoft is also turning its Outlook.com and Outlook for the Web mail services into PWAs (further validating the potential power of PWAs). And Google continues to double-down on their potential. In addition to releasing PWAs for Google Photos and YouTube Music last year, the company recently made Google Drive available for installation as a PWA.

The benefits of PWAs

Businesses looking to deliver apps that support and inspire their workforce should consider the following benefits of PWAs: 

  • Resource optimization and faster delivery: PWAs simplify design, development, QA, and even project management by enabling organizations to build and maintain one code base that can fully realize and convey a brand’s vision across all major platforms and browsers. And when it comes to deployment, getting the apps in the hands of users doesn’t have to be slowed down by a rigorous app store review and approval process.
  • Consistent experience: Because PWAs are powered by web technologies, users access the same app and the same functionality whether they’re at their desk or on the go. Web APIs standards such as camera access, geolocation, or functionality enabled by service workers (a powerful technology behind PWAs) such as background sync and push notifications also unlock features traditionally thought of as only available to native apps.
  • Enhanced reliability and speed: PWAs allow developers to control how network requests get intercepted and what gets served to users. With access to a more granular caching mechanism via service workers, businesses can deliver not only instant application load times on return visits, they can offer an enhanced offline experience as well.
  • Primed for future innovation: PWAs are inherently flexible and constantly evolving with the emergence of new web standards—increasing adoption and support for those standards by modern browsers.

To deliver these benefits to end-users, support for PWAs is on the rise. Chrome, Firefox for Android 58+, and Microsoft’s newly released Edge Chromium browser all offer full support for PWAs. Safari and Apple are not far behind as they continue to make strides to provide greater PWA support.

Innovative businesses are increasingly turning to PWAs to meet the rising expectations of today’s tech-savvy workforce while minimizing development and maintenance costs. By taking the best of native mobile apps and responsive websites, PWAs deliver the flexible experiences and advanced features today’s employees demand and require to work more efficiently — anywhere, on any device, at any time. 

Visit the DockYard blog to stay up-to-date on the lastest PWA support and capabilities. 

With over 15 years of development experience, Estelle DeBlois leads DockYard’s expert engineering team with a technology focus on Elixir/Phoenix, Ember.js, and React.js. DockYard is a full service, full stack digital product agency offering custom software, mobile, and web application development for clients such as Netflix and Apple.