19
May
2016

Progressive Web - What that means to the mobile future

In the ongoing Google I/O, the one thing that fascinated me was the focus Google was having on Progressive Web. Mobile Web was always expected to win the battle over the thick client apps. After all the web applications completely smothered the desktop apps. The richness, performance, usability of the thick client app; none of that mattered. The convenience of web app overshadowed all of it even if it meant some compromises. You didn't need to install anything and keep them updating. For developers it was a nightmare in terms of maintenance and developing for multiple OS versions (agreed it was dominated by Windows but still..)


The same cycle might be starting all over now. Mobile web was the starting point but had way too many limitations to be considered as a worthy competitor to the native apps. Location awareness, interacting with native device, lacking push notification and sluggish performance were too much of a burden. Facebook tried to be bold by going the Mobile web way, but finally admitted it as one of their serious mistakes. The device capability, mobile browser maturity and developer support was simply not there. The verdict seemed to have been delivered.


That seems to be finally changing with the advent of Progressive Web. It seems to bridge the gap between a mobile web application and a native app pretty well. The app shell and the service worker component in particular provide us with quick load times, offline capability and push notifications. Add to that, HTML5's support to interact with device equipments (camera, accelerometer, GPS etc), you suddenly are equipped with best features of both the worlds. The feature set of native apps and the convenience of the web.


I fiddled around with Flipkart's progressive app and was very impressed (good job Flipkart's engineering team). Of course I will give it a couple of week's time before I uninstall the native version. The experience was pretty good and is only going to get better.


Which brings us to the very important question of the app's future. The huge eco-system that Apple and Google have for their apps. What's going to happen there! A significant chunk of their revenue is driven by the eco-system. Since Google is behind the Progressive app revolution, they must have already thought about the effect. Rather than trying to protect their Android app market share, they are embracing the change. The real question is how is Apple going to look at the development? Will they anytime soon support Progressive web or be defensive? The third giant Microsoft should have no problem since Windows mobile eco-system is not able to make serious dents. They would be more than happy to support this.


It's a little too early to make any conclusive judgement. All we can hope is use mobile the way we use browsers currently. It should just work. Without me bothering to install a bucket load of apps to do anything.