Learn what a Progressive Web App (PWA) is and why they seem to currently be all the rage in the world of apps.

Episode 0340

What Is a Progressive Web App?


Liz: [00:00:03] Hey there, welcome back to the show. I’m Liz Hersh and my cohost is Sandro Galindo. We share tips and insight on digital marketing for small businesses covering everything from SEO to social media to reputation management. Today Sandro is going to explain what a PWA is.

Sandro: [00:00:20] Thanks Liz. Here we are again with another acronym for you as a small business owner.

Liz: [00:00:25] So much jargon.


The Book of Jobs . . . Steve Jobs


Sandro: [00:00:27] You may have heard about this one here and there. The term was coined in 2015 by a guy named Alex Russell. And it stands for Progressive Web App, PWA, Progressive Web App. And the exact definition has been very fluid it seems for the past four years but there finally seems to be moving towards a full definitive meaning. For 95 percent of us, it’s basically an app that lives in your browser. In the beginning, of the Book of Jobs, Steve Jobs, the iPhone came out and the only apps available were from Apple. Like your clock, your web browser, text messaging.

Liz: [00:01:04] Calculator.

Sandro: [00:01:04] Calculator, stocks, whatever. They did not allow others to create apps. They wanted companies to build great websites. And from the beginning of the iPhone there was a button in the browser that said, ‘save this page to your homescreen,’ and it’s still there. And of course history shows Apple learned all about the money they can make with apps and the rest is history. However, there was another reason for the move towards apps, browsers just weren’t powerful enough to handle everything companies wanted them to do. Browsers at the time couldn’t open your camera to take or upload a picture. There weren’t alerts that they could send you and other things.

Sandro: [00:01:44] But over time and today browsers are pretty darn powerful. Just look at Chrome, Google’s browser, if you’re a developer or ask your developer friends to show you how they use Chrome, you’ll be amazed at all the power that is in there. From testing web speeds to changing code right there within Chrome and of course extensions available and that’s just scratching the surface of what everything Chrome can do.


Today’s Web Browsers Are Powerful


Sandro: [00:02:06] Anyway, today’s modern browser can handle a lot more and thus there’s a movement towards apps for your browser, which is what Steve Jobs wanted originally for the iPhone. These apps are generally called PWAs. These apps can now do just about everything a native app can do. You can click ‘add to home screen’ and it will sit on your phone like a regular app. They can work offline, so they store information so you can read it later. News articles, The Washington Post has a PWA. They can send alerts. So Tinder has a PWA so you can find out when you’re matched with somebody.

Sandro: [00:02:34] But also they’re responsive in web design, so they work in just about any browser, even on your desktop. Last week, and the reason for this episode is that Chrome 73, which if you’re using Chrome it’s probably been updated to 73, they can now run and download PWAs. So PWA works on your phone, your tablet or your desktop.

Sandro: [00:03:06] Some of the other benefits people are touting with PWAs is that you don’t have to download an app or install an app or make sure you have the latest version of the app. It’s always running in the newest version. There’s no download, it’s an actual sharable url, so a link. You can to send anyone instead of having to send one link for iOS and another link for Google Play or another link for the Amazon Appstore.


Skirt Apple & Google’s 30% Take?

Sandro: [00:03:34] One thing I didn’t see too much about in my research but I presume is true, you don’t have to pay Apple or Google 30 percent of the cut. I know Spotify, it made big news. They’re suing Apple over Apple taking 30 percent of any subscription they get. So if you use the Spotify PWA and you sign up there, they get all 10 bucks a month, whereas Apple gets that seven dollars, or three dollars of that ten dollars a month and Spotify only gets seven.

Sandro: [00:03:53] Another benefit, these PWAs load really quickly. No need to wait for the app to load up if you have an older phone again, because basically it’s a website and as such they’re easier to build than actual apps and you only have to build one instead of having to build one for iOS and one for Android. PWAs are all websites. That’s all they are, they’re websites. And as such, any website could technically become a PWA. And as Alex Russell, the guy that coined this phrase said, “PWAs are basically just websites that took all the right vitamins.”


PWA Downsides


Sandro: [00:04:27] Some downsides, they don’t take advantage of all the hardware, they can’t. Like the Touch ID. Sometimes you can just buy things with your thumbprint now on your phones. You can’t do that. They can’t use the biometrics, Apple Health Data at least on your iPhone. There’s no central place to download, like a PWA store just yet. And they don’t have access to Bluetooth or the NFC sensors, so like paying with your phone. So while browsers are becoming more powerful and can run these, there are limitations.

Sandro: [00:04:55] So what are some examples of PWAs? We’ve mentioned the Twitter, the Tinder, the Washington Post and Spotify. One vertical I’m seeing this more and more in is travel websites. This could help if you’re on a plane with no internet. You forget what plane or hotel reservation you have or where your hotel is, it’ll store data like that. Google Maps also has one. All these are PWAs you can try on your phone or on your Chrome browser.

Sandro: [00:05:04] So bottom line, PWAs are websites that run like apps, but can be faster than apps, easier to use, load and share, and just as powerful. And can run on every device out there and are also a lot cheaper to build than a native app where you only have to build one instead of multiple ones. So if your business has an app or is considering building one, a PWA may be the way to go.


Do PWAs Pull Data From Phone?


Liz: [00:05:44] Several questions. First one – I know that it recently came out that Facebook’s app was pulling a lot of data from from elsewhere on your phone. Do PWAs capture that at that same level?

Sandro: [00:05:58] PWAs cannot access your contact information, your address book yet. It’s probably less than that. And another downside to PWAs, they can’t access, like, your Google log in. So like sometimes you can just log in via Facebook or via Google.

Liz: [00:06:12] Right.

Sandro: [00:06:13] They can’t do that just yet either.


Design Separate Site?


Liz: [00:06:17] Okay. So let’s say I’m a company that has a website and I just found out about PWAs and I want to do this. So are they essentially designing a separate site, a new site that would function maybe like a pared down version of what’s in the full browser experience?

Sandro: [00:06:36] You can or you could just make it your actual website. It’s basically just a responsive website that is secure and uses something called a service worker.

Liz: [00:06:44] OK.

Sandro: [00:06:44] And they’re lighter and faster to load. But you may want to build a separate one. But you know, if you’re a pizza place you may want to build the delivery version, like the Pizza Hut app or something.

Liz: [00:06:55] OK. So Steve Jobs’ vision lives on. And we might finally be realizing it.

Sandro: [00:07:01] He was right to begin with. Yes.

Liz: [00:07:02] Good.

Sandro: [00:07:03] Ahead of his time.

Liz: [00:07:04] Yeah. So, great info. I know I had a lot of questions. I’m sure some of our listeners will have questions as well and we would love to hear from you. So reach out to us via email, via Twitter. I think that wraps up today’s episode. Thank you for joining us. Don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast app. You can find us on iTunes, Spotify and Google Podcast. You can also catch us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. And we will see you next time.