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What are Progressive Web Apps and How are they Evolving?

The advent of the responsive mobile site- and the responsive desktop site for that matter- revolutionized web design. Almost overnight, responsive web design features colonized the web and got rid of the static, ‘90s era amateur design once and for all. The days of using nesting tables in HTML for the design were finally over, and we all sang and rejoiced as one.

But the responsive design for the mobile web has been around for a good few years now. The truth is that all good things must come to an end, or at least, all good things must continue to evolve! So where can we go from here?

Responsive mobile web design was revolutionary…

Browsing the web was a chore for early smartphone adopters. It was a hassle to navigate around pages, not just because you had to zoom in and zoom out constantly, but because of the difficulty of hitting links, reading a minute text and loading page code intended for powerful PCs. It was plain to see that something had to be done. In fact, it was normally quicker and easier to just go and find a laptop or desktop computer, which, coincidentally, wouldn’t give you carpal tunnel syndrome from constant pinching and flicking on a tiny screen!

So when the first 3G networks came along, they were shortly followed by a revolution in design. Now, smartphones could load complicated sites, and the layout would spring to fit the size of whatever device you were holding. It was fresh, it was new, and it was much needed, and these changes helped to kick off the mobile revolution we’re currently enjoying.

Over time, this revolution spread out from certain early adopters and became standard web development. That’s in no small part due to the fact that mobile has become by far the most common method of accessing the web, over PCs and laptops. So even though responsive mobile web design has been around for awhile now, it hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down.

But no design solution is ever permanent, and the same goes for the responsive web. Like everybody in industries affected by fashion and trends, UX designers have been working for years to improve upon what we already have. But what is next on the list of things to conquer the world of mobile web design, and mobile marketing? We’re glad you asked.

Responsive web design was just the beginning.

Not content with their prime internet real estate as the ubiquitous search engine of choice, Google is pushing for change in the mobile web- change, coincidentally, which places themselves at its front and center. The first thing Google did was to release a new algorithm used to index websites separately for mobile and desktop, further distinguishing between the two.

Not long after, Google debuted AMP: Accelerated Mobile Pages. If you don’t pay attention to this sort of thing, AMP are a super stripped-down version of a website- this could be your website, a news site like The Guardian (one of the early adopters, as it happens), or any other site you can think of- which is stripped of any bloatware and unnecessary fluff. When you Google search for a news story, two or three AMP links will pop up at the top of the screen, before the regular search results. This helps sites load far faster than they did before, but not only that, it gives your page added prominence- so it’s a win-win.

Hopefully what you’re getting from this is that Google is completely switched on to the all-conquering rise of mobile. And without a doubt, it’s due to the growing popularity of Google searches on mobile devices and the sheer amount of users that actually use their mobiles over a desktop.

Every one of these advancements, you’ll notice, has been all about responsiveness and speed. And that’s a welcome development in the mobile web, because that’s precisely what it lacks, especially in comparison to native apps. Native apps are popular in large part because they don’t necessarily need an active internet connection to work, meaning that they’re much faster when used than the mobile web. So the trick is to make the mobile web as fast as an app. But how can you actually put that into practice?

And here’s what comes next.

Seeing how many initiatives Google are putting forward, and knowing the vast store of funds that they can plough into research and development, you can be sure that Google has something much bigger planned for mobile users and businesses alike. So this is where we introduce… The Progressive Web App.

The Progressive Web App directly addresses that very central problem: making the web as responsive as an app. Progressive Web Apps use what are called ‘service workers’, which are basically ‘like a client-side proxy’ which ‘puts you in control of the cache and how it responds to resource requests’. You pre-cache the key resources of your site to get rid of your users’ reliance on the network to access them.

The point is that this allows users to interact with your site in the same way that they’d interact with an app. It loads just as fast, it looks just the same- provided you design it that way- and offers that frictionless experience that makes apps so popular. This dramatically cuts down on the number of people abandoning your site because it takes so long to load.

Not only that, but PWAs can be saved to the Home Screen of a smartphone just like a native app. This increases engagement by up to four times, since users have an easy way of accessing your site. And through the service worker JavaScript code it’s possible to send push notifications, again just like a native app. All of these improvements add up to a huge boost for your conversions, anywhere up to 100% according to their case studies. Doesn’t that sound useful?

How can I join the PWA revolution?

Because they’re so fond of them, Google has put together a list of some great case studies, as well as a comprehensive guide on how exactly to code a PWA; so you’ll be neither stuck for creative ideas, or for technical solutions. If you’re a dab hand at coding, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to actually create and publish your own.

If not, you can hire a professional or use a design wizard to build your own without having to write a line of CSS or JavaScript. Using a design wizard is an excellent option for anybody concerned about the cost of apps and web design, which can run into tens of thousands of pounds, or more. This opens up the world of PWAs to everyone, from entrepreneurs to SMEs and big businesses.

PWAs can be implemented into your existing web design quickly and easily. They are essentially little more than a responsive web page with a different design, and a little bit of JavaScript; so actually implementing one in your own designs is little different to when you changed your site to make it responsive in the first place. Considering the benefits they bring in conversion and engagement, it’s a no-brainer!


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