Progressive Web Applications at Quoin
userEva Strauss
March 04, 2020

When it comes to choosing between a traditional website and a native application, there is usually no right answer. Websites are quicker and more efficient to deploy and maintain, and compared to native apps, are discoverable in search engines and responsive across devices. However, native apps offer inherent advantages over a website in terms of improved performance, offline reliability, and enhanced user engagement. This means that many organizations need to weigh competing software priorities, or else choose to develop both a website and a native app - an expensive and time-consuming solution.

Enter the progressive web application (PWA). Combining the best elements of both web and mobile apps, progressive web apps promise to be one of the most important technological advancements in software and enterprise development. At Quoin, we focus on how our clients can effectively engage their customers or constituents; as such, PWAs are a natural extension of our commitment to connecting end-users with the features and functionality they need most. Our recent project experience demonstrates exactly how PWAs can benefit our clients, whether they are in retail ecommerce or in international development.

Progressive web applications are essentially websites that employ native app-like features to deliver a better user experience than traditional web pages. While built using web technologies (such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), PWAs have the look and feel of a native mobile app. This means that they can be deployed from a mobile or desktop home screen, retain basic functionality offline, and even receive push notifications.

These developments are enabled by new technologies such as the addition of a special “manifest” file and the increased availability of service workers. Websites with manifest files define the name and icon of the app for the home screen, and crucially, allow the user to bypass the app store for simple installation directly from the browser tab. PWAs can be easily accessed from any device’s home screen and quickly launched without the need for connectivity, similar to a native app. Service workers help to cache new content and synchronize local changes to a remote server, which keep PWAs as up-to-date as a typical website, while staying as reliable as a native app. As a result, PWAs are consistently fast and provide a user experience that feels both seamless and integrated.

PWAs offer the below advantages:

  • Progressive: Works on any device and enhances progressively, taking advantage of any features available on the user’s device and browser. 
  • Responsive: UI can fit any device’s form factor and screen size.
  • Connectivity independent: Enhanced with Service Workers to work offline or in areas of low connectivity.
  • App-like-interactions: Behaves like a native app and built on the application shell model, with minimal page refreshes.
  • Fresh: Can update when new content is published and the user has an online connection, due to the Service Worker update process. 
  • Safe: Served via TLS (a Service Worker requirement) and hosted over HTTPS to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks. 
  • Discoverable: Discoverable in search engines, since PWAs are websites. 
  • Re-engageable: Can encourage users to re-engage through features such as push notifications on the home screen.
  • Installable: Simple deployment from the home screen through browser-provided prompts, making it readily available and simple to re-access. 
  • Linkable: Easily shared via its URL

Most retail companies today recognize the need to provide consumers with fully equipped ecommerce sites. However, consumers are expected to shop more and more through their mobile devices. Indeed, 73% of global ecommerce sales are projected to be generated on mobile devices in the next two years, leading many companies to add a native app to improve their mobile presence. PWAs, responsive and progressive on both desktop or mobile platforms, are therefore an efficient and cost-effective alternative to developing a native app and then maintaining the two separate platforms. Further, the integrated nature of PWAs contributes to higher rates of user engagement and retention. For example, the simple installation of PWAs from the browser eliminates the need to visit an app store and download a native app - a relatively complex process where organizations lose almost 20% of potential users. PWAs are also highly searchable (like websites), and drive user engagement through push notifications (like an app).

Quoin is currently supporting Comporium Communications, a South Carolina-based telecommunications company, to harness these benefits in a progressive web application to complement their existing ecommerce site (also built by Quoin). The PWA will essentially be an extension of Comporium’s existing modern web application, but will additionally support basic offline capabilities and app-like elements such as push notifications. Our goal is to provide a single code base that works as both a traditional website and a mobile app, resulting in a user experience that emphasizes greater consistency and predictability. In particular, the PWA will feature integrated services architecture for Business Support Systems (BSS) and Self Service. The PWA Quoin is developing will ultimately provide Comporium with the essential app-like functionalities that its customers expect - at a fraction of the price and difficulty. 

Technology for Development (T4D) is another area that stands to benefit from implementation of progressive web apps. Like retail ecommerce, development agencies need technology to optimize user accessibility, engagement, and retention. What’s at stake is not consumer sales, but rather the ability to reach communities in need. Many of these communities are in remote or otherwise internet-inaccessible locations, making the offline functionality of PWAs extremely important to service providers in the field. Due to the inherently varied nature of resources and training in the international development sector, it is also necessary that any technology platform is accessible and navigable for local users independent of their device and technical know-how. Finally, PWAs enable organizations to eliminate a lot of the overhead towards provision of devices; as long as the user has a standard browser on phone or tablet, the PWA will upload automatically.

Quoin has a longstanding partnership with UNICEF to build, implement and maintain its case management and incident reporting platform, Primero. The original version of the site consists of a highly configurable web application and mobile Android app which are designed to address the specific needs of UNICEF and its partner organizations. Quoin envisions its role with Primero as not merely delivering the data and code, but continuously working to understand and enhance the way users engage the platform in their work. 

To this end, Quoin is currently developing a progressive web app for Primero, to be released in the upcoming Version 2 launch. With basic offline features and less data consumption, the PWA will eliminate the need for a separate mobile app. Being mobile-friendly as opposed to mobile-only also enables the end-user to decide which format they are more comfortable using. Primero users will be able to automatically access the PWA when they upgrade to Version 2, thus permitting UNICEF to streamline its mobile device management (MDM) without compromising on the quality of technology provided.

Web Application Development