Tags: pwas

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Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

What is a Progressive Web App?

It seems like any new field goes through an inevitable growth spurt that involves “defining the damn thing.” For the first few years of the IA Summit, every second presentation seemed to be about defining what Information Architecture actually is. See also: UX. See also: Content Strategy.

Now it seems to be happening with Progressive Web Apps …which is odd, considering the damn thing is defined damn well.

I’ve written before about the naming of Progressive Web Apps. On the whole, I think it’s a pretty good term, especially if you’re trying to convince the marketing team.

Regardless of the specifics of the name, what I like about Progressive Web Apps is that they have a clear definition. It reminds me of Responsive Web Design. Whatever you think of that name, it comes with a clear list of requirements:

  1. A fluid layout,
  2. Fluid images, and
  3. Media queries.

Likewise, Progressive Web Apps consist of:

  1. HTTPS,
  2. A service worker, and
  3. A Web App Manifest.

There’s more you can do in addition to that (just as there’s plenty more you can do on a responsive site), but the core definition is nice and clear.

Except, for some reason, that clarity is being lost.

Here’s a post by Ben Halpern called What the heck is a “Progressive Web App”? Seriously.

I have a really hard time describing what a progressive web app actually is.

He points to Google’s intro to Progressive Web Apps:

Progressive Web Apps are user experiences that have the reach of the web, and are:

  • Reliable - Load instantly and never show the downasaur, even in uncertain network conditions.
  • Fast - Respond quickly to user interactions with silky smooth animations and no janky scrolling.
  • Engaging - Feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.

Those are great descriptions of the benefits of Progressive Web Apps. Perfect material for convincing your clients or your boss. But that appears on developers.google.com …surely it would be more beneficial for that audience to know the technologies that comprise Progressive Web Apps?

Ben Halpern again:

Google’s continued use of the term “quality” in describing things leaves me with a ton of confusion. It really seems like they want PWA to be a general term that doesn’t imply any particular implementation, and have it be focused around the user experience, but all I see over the web is confusion as to what they mean by these things. My website is already “engaging” and “immersive”, does that mean it’s a PWA?

I think it’s important to use the right language for the right audience.

If you’re talking to the business people, tell them about the return on investment you get from Progressive Web Apps.

If you’re talking to the marketing people, tell them about the experiential benefits of Progressive Web Apps.

But if you’re talking to developers, tell them that a Progressive Web App is a website served over HTTPS with a service worker and manifest file.

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Installing Progressive Web Apps

When I was testing the dConstruct Audio Archive—which is now a Progressive Web App—I noticed some interesting changes in how Chrome on Android offers the “add to home screen” prompt.

It used to literally say “add to home screen.”

Getting the “add to home screen” prompt for https://huffduffer.com/ on Android Chrome. And there’s the “add to home screen” prompt for https://html5forwebdesigners.com/ HTTPS + manifest.json + Service Worker = “Add to Home Screen” prompt. Add to home screen.

Now it simply says “add.”

The dConstruct Audio Archive is now a Progressive Web App

I vaguely remember there being some talk of changing the labelling, but I could’ve sworn it was going to change to “install”. I’ve got to be honest, just having the word “add” doesn’t seem to provide much context. Based on the quick’n’dirty usability testing I did with some co-workers, it just made things confusing. “Add what?” “What am I adding?”

Additionally, the prompt appeared immediately on the first visit to the site. I thought there was supposed to be an added “engagement” metric in order for the prompt to appear; that the user needs to visit the site more than once.

You’d think I’d be happy that users will be presented with the home-screen prompt immediately, but based on the behaviour I saw, I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Here’s what I observed:

  1. The user types the URL archive.dconstruct.org into the address bar.
  2. The site loads.
  3. The home-screen prompt slides up from the bottom of the screen.
  4. The user immediately moves to dismiss the prompt (cue me interjecting “Don’t close that!”).

This behaviour is entirely unsurprising for three reasons:

  1. We web designers and web developers have trained users to dismiss overlays and pop-ups if they actually want to get to the content. Nobody’s going to bother to actually read the prompt if there’s a 99% chance it’s going to say “Sign up to our newsletter!” or “Take our survey!”.
  2. The prompt appears below the “line of death” so there’s no way to tell it’s a browser or OS-level dialogue rather than a JavaScript-driven pop-up from the site.
  3. Because the prompt now appears on the first visit, no trust has been established between the user and the site. If the prompt only appeared on later visits (or later navigations during the first visit) perhaps it would stand a greater chance of survival.

It’s still possible to add a Progressive Web App to the home screen, but the option to do that is hidden behind the mysterious three-dots-vertically-stacked icon (I propose we call this the shish kebab icon to distinguish it from the equally impenetrable hamburger icon).

I was chatting with Andreas from Mozilla at the View Source conference last week, and he was filling me in on how Firefox on Android does the add-to-homescreen flow. Instead of a one-time prompt, they’ve added a persistent icon above the “line of death” (the icon is a combination of a house and a plus symbol).

When a Firefox 58 user arrives on a website that is served over HTTPS and has a valid manifest, a subtle badge will appear in the address bar: when tapped, an “Add to Home screen” confirmation dialog will slide in, through which the web app can be added to the Android home screen.

This kind of badging also has issues (without the explicit text “add to home screen”, the user doesn’t know what the icon does), but I think a more persistently visible option like this works better than the a one-time prompt.

Firefox is following the lead of the badging approach pioneered by the Samsung Internet browser. It provides a plus symbol that, when pressed, reveals the options to add to home screen or simply bookmark.

What does it mean to be an App?

I don’t think Chrome for Android has any plans for this kind of badging, but they are working on letting the site authors provide their own prompts. I’m not sure this is such a good idea, given our history of abusing pop-ups and overlays.

Sadly, I feel that any solution that relies on an unrequested overlay is doomed. That’s on us. The way we’ve turned browsing the web—especially on mobile—into a frustrating chore of dismissing unwanted overlays is a classic tragedy of the commons. We blew it. Users don’t trust unrequested overlays, and I can’t blame them.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that ambient badging is a better user experience than one-time prompts. That opinion is informed by a meagre amount of testing though. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s been doing more detailed usability testing of both approaches. I assume that Google, Mozilla, and Samsung are doing this kind of testing, and it would be really great to see the data from that (hint, hint).

But it might well be that ambient badging is just too subtle to even be noticed by the user.

On one end of the scale you’ve got the intrusiveness of an add-to-home-screen prompt, but on the other end of the scale you’ve got the discoverability problem of a subtle badge icon. I wonder if there might be a compromise solution—maybe a badge icon that pulses or glows on the first or second visit?

Of course that would also need to be thoroughly tested.

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Pattern Libraries, Performance, and Progressive Web Apps

Ever since its founding in 2005, Clearleft has been laser-focused on user experience design.

But we’ve always maintained a strong front-end development arm. The front-end development work at Clearleft is always in service of design. Over the years we’ve built up a wealth of expertise on using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to make better user experiences.

Recently we’ve been doing a lot of strategic design work—the really in-depth long-term engagements that begin with research and continue through to design consultancy and collaboration. That means we’ve got availability for front-end development work. Whether it’s consultancy or production work you’re looking for, this could be a good opportunity for us to work together.

There are three particular areas of front-end expertise we’re obsessed with…

Pattern Libraries

We caught the design systems bug years ago, way back when Natalie started pioneering pattern libraries as our primary deliverable (or pattern portfolios, as we called them then). This approach has proven effective time and time again. We’ve spent years now refining our workflow and thinking around modular design. Fractal is the natural expression of this obsession. Danielle and Mark have been working flat-out on version 2. They’re very eager to share everything they’ve learned along the way …and help others put together solid pattern libraries.

Danielle Huntrods Mark Perkins

Performance

Thinking about it, it’s no surprise that we’re crazy about performance at Clearleft. Like I said, our focus on user experience, and when it comes to user experience on the web, nothing but nothing is more important than performance. The good news is that the majority of performance fixes can be done on the front end—images, scripts, fonts …it’s remarkable how much a good front-end overhaul can make to the bottom line. That’s what Graham has been obsessing over.

Graham Smith

Progressive Web Apps

Over the years I’ve found myself getting swept up in exciting new technologies on the web. When Clearleft first formed, my head was deep into DOM Scripting and Ajax. Half a decade later it was HTML5. Now it’s service workers. I honestly think it’s a technology that could be as revolutionary as Ajax or HTML5 (maybe I should write a book to that effect).

I’ve been talking about service workers at conferences this year, and I can’t hide my excitement:

There’s endless possibilities of what you can do with this technology. It’s very powerful.

Combine a service worker with a web app manifest and you’ve got yourself a Progressive Web App. It’s not just a great marketing term—it’s an opportunity for the web to truly excel at delivering the kind of user experiences previously only associated with native apps.

Jeremy Keith

I’m very very keen to work with companies and organisations that want to harness the power of service workers and Progressive Web Apps. If that’s you, get in touch.

Whether it’s pattern libraries, performance, or Progressive Web Apps, we’ve got the skills and expertise to share with you.

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Progressive Web Apps? No, we are building Alien Web Apps | Condé Nast Technology

There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet as to how to build a PWA and how “appy” and SPA-y one must be.

Yes!

This simply isn’t true. Disappointingly, It is what most of the documentation, blog posts and public discourse seem to imply.

Preach it!

I’m so, so happy to see some pushback against the misinformation that progressive web apps automatically imply client-side rendered single page apps built from scratch. There’s so much value to be had in turbo-charging an existing site into a progressive web app.

But what we don’t need is yet another TLA like Alien Web Apps.

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

How much storage space is my Progressive Web App using? | Dean Hume

You can use navigator.storage.estimate() to get a (vague) idea of how much space is available on a device for your service worker caches.

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Infusion: An Inclusive Documentation Builder

Two of my favourite things together at last: pattern libraries and service workers. Infusion is a tool for generating pattern libraries that also work offline.

Thinking about it, it makes total sense that a pattern library should be a progressive web app.

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Tame your Service Worker before your Progressive Web App go into the wild by Maxim Salnikov

There are some great service worker optimisation tips in these slides.

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Betting on the Web

Along the lines of John’s recent post, Henrik makes the business case for progressive web apps.

He also points out how they can be much better than native apps for controlling hardware.

They can be up and running in a fraction of the time whether or not they were already “installed” and unlike “apps” can be saved as an app on the device at the user’s discretion!

Essentially they’re really great for creating “ad hoc” experiences that can be “cold started” on a whim nearly as fast as if it were already installed.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

A Progressive Web Approach to a Networked Economy - Web Directions

John makes the point that unless you’re one of the big, big players, your native app is really going to struggle to find an audience. But that’s okay—a progressive web app might be exactly what you need.

In short, using native apps as a path to reaching a large number of potential customers and benefitting from crucial network effects is close to impossible.

But, in the meantime, the Web has responded to the very significant impact that native apps had on user behaviour.

For me, the strength of the web has never been about how it can help big companies—it’s about how it can amplify and connect the niche players.

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Categories land in the Web App Manifest | Aaron Gustafson

Manifest files can have categories now. Time to update those JSON files.

Yes, That Web Project Should Be a PWA · An A List Apart Article

A fantastic piece by Aaron who—once again—articulates what I’ve been thinking:

Your site—every site—should be a PWA.

He clearly explains the building blocks of progressive web apps—HTTPS, a manifest file, and a service worker—before describing different scenarios for different kinds of sites:

  • Informational
  • Periodical
  • Transactional
  • Social
  • Software
  • Institutional

Progressive Web Apps may seem overly technical or beyond the needs of your project, but they’re really not. They’re just a shorthand for quality web experiences—experiences that can absolutely make a difference in our users’ lives.

Highly recommended!

Monday, August 7th, 2017

Progressive Progressive Web Apps - Tales of a Developer Advocate by Paul Kinlan

Paul goes into detail describing how he built a progressive web app that’s actually progressive (in the sense of “enhancement”). Most of the stuff about sharing code between server and client goes over my head, but I understood enough to get these points:

  • the “app shell” model is not the only—or even the best—way of building a progressive web app, and
  • always, always, always render from the server first.

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Introducing PWAs

The slides from Calum’s presentation about progressive web apps. There are links throughout to some handy resources.

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

How to turn your website into a PWA | Max Böck - Frontend Web Developer

This primer on progressive web apps starts by dispelling some myths:

  1. Your thing does not have to be an “Application” to be a PWA.
  2. Your thing does not have to be a Javascript-powered single page app.
  3. PWAs are not specifically made for Google or Android.
  4. PWAs are ready and safe to use today.

Then it describes the three-step programme for turning your thing into a progressive web app:

  1. The Manifest.
  2. Go HTTPS.
  3. The Service Worker.

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Your Site—Any Site—Should be a PWA | Aaron Gustafson

Tell it, brother!

PWAs don’t require you use a particular JavaScript framework or any JavaScript framework at all. You don’t need to be building a Single Page App either.

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Progressing the web

Frances has written up some of the history behind her minting of the term “progressive web app”. She points out that accuracy is secondary to marketing:

I keep seeing folks (developers) getting all smart-ass saying they should have been PW “Sites” not “Apps” but I just want to put on the record that it doesn’t matter. The name isn’t for you and worrying about it is distraction from just building things that work better for everyone. The name is for your boss, for your investor, for your marketeer.

Personally, I think “progressive web app” is a pretty good phrase—two out of three words in it are spot on. I really like the word “progressive”, with its echoes of progressive enhancement. I really, really like the word “web”. But, yeah, I’m one of those smart-asses who points out that the “app” part isn’t great.

That’s not just me being a pedant (or, it’s not only me being a pedant). I’ve seen people who were genuinely put off investigating the technologies behind progressive web apps because of the naming.

Here’s an article with the spot-on title Progressive Web Apps — The Next Step In Responsive Web Design:

Late last week, Smashing Magazine, one of the largest and most influential online publications for web design, posted on Facebook that their website was “now running as a Progressive Web App.”

Honestly, I didn’t think much of it. Progressive Web Apps are for the hardcore web application developers creating the next online cloud-based Photoshop (complicated stuff), right? I scrolled on and went about my day.

And here’s someone feeling the cognitive dissonance of turning a website into a progressive web app, even though that’s exactly the right thing to do:

My personal website is a collection of static HTML files and is also a progressive web app. Transforming it into a progressive web app felt a bit weird in the beginning because it’s not an actual application but I wanted to be one of the cool kids, and PWAs still offer a lot of additional improvements.

Still, it could well be that these are the exceptions and that most people are not being discouraged by the “app” phrasing. I certainly hope that there aren’t more people out there thinking “well, progressive web apps aren’t for me because I’m building a content site.”

In short, the name might not be perfect but it’s pretty damn good.

What I find more troubling is the grouping of unrelated technologies under the “progressive web app” banner. If Google devrel events were anything to go by, you’d be forgiven for thinking that progressive web apps have something to do with AMP or Polymer (they don’t). One of the great things about progressive web apps is that they are agnostic to tech stacks. Still, I totally get why Googlers would want to use the opportunity to point to their other projects.

Far more troubling is the entanglement of the term “progressive web app” with the architectural choice of “single page app”. I’m not the only one who’s worried about this.

Here’s the most egregious example: an article on Hacker Noon called Before You Build a PWA You Need a SPA.

No! Not true! Literally any website can be a progressive web app:

That last step can be tricky if you’re new to service workers, but it’s not unsurmountable. It’s certainly a lot easier than completely rearchitecting your existing website to be a JavaScript-driven single page app.

Alas, I think that many of the initial poster-children for progressive web apps gave the impression that you had to make a completely separate app/site at a different URL. It was like a return to the bad old days of m. sites for mobile. The Washington Post’s progressive web app (currently offline) went so far as to turn away traffic from the “wrong” browsers. This is despite the fact that the very first item in the list of criteria for a progressive web app is:

Responsive: to fit any form factor

Now, I absolutely understand that the immediate priority is to demonstrate that a progressive web app can compete with a native mobile app in terms of features (and trounce it in terms of installation friction). But I’m worried that in our rush to match what native apps can do, we may end up ditching the very features that make the web a universally-accessible medium. Killing URLs simply because native apps don’t have URLs is a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bath water:

Up until now I’ve been a big fan of Progressive Web Apps. I understood them to be combining the best of the web (responsiveness, linkability) with the best of native (installable, connectivity independent). Now I see that balance shifting towards the native end of the scale at the expense of the web’s best features. I’d love to see that balance restored with a little less emphasis on the “Apps” and a little more emphasis on the “Web.” Now that would be progressive.

If the goal of the web is just to compete with native, then we’ve set the bar way too low.

So if you’ve been wary of investing the technologies behind progressive web apps because you’re “just” building a website, please try to see past the name. As Frances says:

It’s marketing, just like HTML5 had very little to do with actual HTML. PWAs are just a bunch of technologies with a zingy-new brandname.

Literally any website can—and should—be a progressive web app. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I was at an event last year where I heard Chris Heilmann say that you shouldn’t make your blog into a progressive web app. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He repeats that message in this video chat:

When somebody, for example, turns their blog into a PWA, I don’t see the point. I don’t want to have that icon on my homepage. This doesn’t make any sense to me.

Excuse me!? Just because you don’t want to have someone’s icon on your home screen, that person shouldn’t be using state-of-the-art technologies!? Excuse my French, but Fuck. That. Shit!

Our imaginations have become so limited by what native mobile apps currently do that we can’t see past merely imitating the status quo like a sad cargo cult.

I don’t want the web to equal native; I want the web to surpass it. I, for one, would prefer a reality where my home screen isn’t filled with the icons of startups and companies that have fulfilled the criteria of the gatekeepers. But a home screen filled with the faces of people who didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to publish? That’s what I want!

Like Frances says:

Remember, this is for everyone.

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Naming Progressive Web Apps | fberriman

AMP is a symptom that someone, somewhere, thinks the web is failing so badly (so slow, so unresponsive) for a portion of the world that they want to take all the content and package it back up in a sterile, un-webby, branded box. That makes me so sad. PWAs, to me, are a potential treatment.

Friday, April 28th, 2017

A Case for Progressive Web Applications in 2017

If your company is or is planning on doing business in emerging markets, architecting your web applications for performance through progressive enhancements is one easy way to drastically improve accessibility, retention, and user experience.

This article uses “progressive enhancement” and “progressive web app” interchangeably, which would be true in an ideal world. This is the first of a three part series, and it sounds like it will indeed document how to take an existing site and enhance it into a progressive web app—a strategy I much prefer to creating a separate silo that only works for a subset of devices (the app-shell model being pushed by Google).

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Progressive Web Apps - ILT  |  Web  |  Google Developers

A step-by-step guide to building progressive web apps. It covers promises, service workers, fetch, and cache, but seeing as it’s from Google, it also pushes the app-shell model.

This is a handy resource but I strongly disagree with some of the advice in the section on architectures (the same bit that gets all swoonsome for app shells):

Start by forgetting everything you know about conventional web design, and instead imagine designing a native app.

Avoid overly “web-like” design.

What a horribly limiting vision for the web! After all that talk about being progressive and responsive, we’re told to pretend we’re imitating native apps on one device type.

What’s really disgusting is the way that the Chrome team are withholding the “add to home screen” prompt from anyone who dares to make progressive web apps that are actually, y’know …webby.

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Retrofit Your Website as a Progressive Web App — SitePoint

Turning your existing website into a progressive web “app”—a far more appealing prospect than trying to create an entirely new app-shell architecture:

…they are an enhancement of your existing website which should take no longer than a few hours and have no negative effect on unsupported browsers.