Microsoft made a big splash in February with its support for Progressive Web Apps on Windows. But did you know iOS quietly added support for PWAs to Safari in the 11.3 update? That means you can now make a Progressive Web App and ship it to Android, iOS, Chrome OS, and Windows.
So, what is a Progressive Web App?
Well, for starters, it’s just a website with a special “manifest” file that defines the name of the app, the icon for the home screen, and whether or not the app should show the typical browser UI or just take over the full screen. Users can add any website with a manifest file to their home screen or their Start menu and launch it like a regular mobile or desktop app.
Progressive Web Apps, importantly, can also support push notifications and other background work due to a new web technology called “service workers.” Service workers can help cache new content and synchronize local changes to a remote server, which keeps Progressive Web Apps as up-to-date as a typical website, while staying as responsive as a native app.
Right now the best example of a Progressive Web App is the Twitter Lite client. It’s fast, minimal, and even has a toggle so you can minimize data usage. Some online stores and publications have also taken advantage of the snappy performance of PWAs. I’ve actually been playing a minimal 2048 clone PWA on my iPhone for the last week. It works offline and remembers my high score between sessions. Sometimes it even saves the game state so I can resume a long run, but it’s not perfect.
Apple’s support for the Progressive Web App standards is scattered and far from complete. In fact, Apple seems to have a different vision than Google for how much a PWA should really be capable of. We’ll see how that vision evolves as PWAs become more ubiquitous and powerful on the platforms of Apple’s competitors.