What are Progressive Web Apps?

I know what you’re thinking. Another kind of app to deal with, when Windows 10 already juggles with a bunch of them. Yes, Progressive Web Apps are nothing new, but they are a big deal for Microsoft’s operating system that has been dealing with the app gap ever since launch.

It was not that long ago that Microsoft detailed its plans to bring PWAs to Windows 10 with the Spring Creators Update. And bang on target, the company has now put up a selection of these applications on the Microsoft Store for users to take for a spin.

But what are Progressive Web Apps, what benefits they bring, and how are they different from other types of applications that are available on Windows 10? And will developers shift focus to these types of applications in the very near future?

Read on to find out.

What are Progressive Web Apps?

What are Progressive Web Apps

If the alphabet soup of app technologies like UWP, PWA confuses you, then you’re not alone. Progressive Web Apps is the latest trend in application development. Think of them as web applications that are a regular website but packaged as traditional applications.

Necessarily, if you can run your app entirely on a web server, then it is the perfect candidate for packaging as a Progressive Web App. It makes them an enhancement of existing web technology, simplifies development and is the next step towards a cloud-connected world.

The technology has been around for some years now. Microsoft was the first out the gate with an early concept of these, but it was not until Google helped standardize and popularize these types of apps did PWAs entered the public conscience.

And developers are now paying attention.

An app by another name

One thing to make clear right off the bat is that PWAs are not just web apps. Not only can these applications work offline, but they can also interact with the device hardware, offer interactive notifications, and distinguish between whether they are running in a browser or as natively installed software.

The idea is to make it simpler to develop apps that run anywhere.

You may be wondering that if these are web apps, then what’s the changes to the PWA platform? That’s because we have not yet talked about where the real magic happens. WebAssembly, a web standard that allows execution of code nearly as fast as running native machine code.

Webassembly of Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

WASM, as it is known, allows developers to use the programming language of their choice to create their app, and then run it as a PWA anywhere and everywhere that can run a browser. It also offers support for stream compilation — meaning it can compile while streaming.

In other words, you don’t have to wait for the entire thing to download before running that app.

The programmers say that PWAs will cover the majority of application needs out there, probably 90%. Since this is a binary format for web applications, developers have even demonstrated real-time video editing in a browser, which is impressive when you think about it.

Modern technologies like push notification, Fetch networking, Service Worker, Cache API, and Web App Manifest are all elements that make up and define Progressive Web Apps — and these are all areas that Microsoft is focusing on for PWAs on Windows 10.

How are PWAs Different?

As complex and backward compatible an operating system Windows 10 is, it stands to reason that it offers support for a whole array of application types. From the traditional desktop software built on the Win32 platform to the failed .NET and WPF experiments, and now, UWP.

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) Concept

The Universal Windows Platform is the company’s third major attempt at modernizing software development on its OS. With Windows 10, Microsoft is replacing OS components for this new framework, and with the advent of Progressive Web Apps, it is also baking in support for these apps.

So, how are PWAs different from other these types of applications that Windows 10 is able to run?

Unlike native applications that have to be built for each platform separately, Progressive Web Apps are universal. They are also hosted by the developers, on their servers, meaning they can be updated continually without the need of submitting new versions to stores.

Since Progressive Web Apps are still relatively new, their infancy means that a lot remains to be developed for these types of applications. They have a way to go to match the feature set and performance of native apps.

In that sense, PWAs are an evolution of native applications, not their replacement.

PWAs on the Microsoft Store

Microsoft promised to bring PWAs on the Microsoft Store by the time the Windows 10 Spring Creators Update launched, and we already have the first wave of these applications up for grabs, including some popular choices.

Twitter was the first PWA app for Windows 10.

PWA Example Twitter App

Since then, applications like Airfarewatchdog, ASOS, Build.com, DayTrip, Men's Wearhouse, myCARFAX, OfferFinder.net, oyester, Skyscanner, Space, Student Doctor Network, The Penny Hoarder, Travelzoo, and ZipRecruiter have made their way out.

You can check some PWA examples in the gallery below...

Interestingly, these have been published under the Microsoft Store banner, suggesting that the company is manually vetting these applications. At least, at this point in time, as it tries to highlight their capabilities to Windows 10 users.

Long story short, Progressive Web Apps have the potential to completely change the web as we know it Change it from a collection of static and dynamic pages to a remarkably robust platform that has application like capabilities.

And they very well could be the answer to the app gap problem on Windows 10.

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