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Progressive Web Apps: Opportunities in mobile interaction

Andries Smit
Andries Smit

Mendix Low-code

Progressive web apps (PWAs) offers great opportunities for this intermediate form between site and app. In this article, we will look at what PWAs are, how you can develop them in Mendix, and the value they can bring.

Put simply, a progressive web app is a web page that behaves like an app. The technology allows a PWA to work without an internet connection and be added to the home screen of a phone or tablet, without the user having to download it from an app store. A PWA thus offers equivalent performance to a native app, and performs much better than a website in terms of user experience.

"25% of apps are removed from a device after just one use."

 

Opportunities in customer interaction

Any point in the customer journey where you need intensive digital interaction is an opportunity for a PWA. A PWA is quickly found via the home screen and interaction is quick and intuitive, while the user does not have to download or install anything. This is important because people are installing fewer and fewer apps, and many apps are also quickly deleted. 25% of apps are removed from a device after just one use.

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A user usually works with a kind of “hard core” of apps, and in fact would prefer not to install anything at all. This is especially true for people with a device with limited memory, which is already pretty much filled by the standard social media & communication apps, photos and videos. At the same time, users are demanding more interaction. For example, they want to be kept informed through notifications and also be able to view and change their information offline. As far as performance is concerned, users have been spoiled by the tech giants. Whereas a few years ago we were willing to wait 3 seconds for an image to load, now we want to be able to interact with an app or site within a fraction of that. If that doesn’t happen, we are out of there very quickly. 

"In industry, we are seeing many PWAs for employees in the field."

 

Support your process, including mobile and offline

The most appropriate area for the use of PWA is in internal processes. In industry, we are seeing many PWAs for employees in the field. In the Netherlands you can usually assume that a 4G connection is always available, but in the rest of the world this is not always the case. PWAs deliver a much better user experience in those situations and are used to ensure that worklists, forms and documents remain accessible, for example. The Mendix platform already supports many of these types of processes. The addition of PWAs provides a new dimension in this respect. For example, the Product Lifecycle Management System we recently launched with Siemens will be getting a mobile app for quality control of production workflows. This will make it possible for information on semi-manufactured products to be shared directly with the designers.

Van Bommel-1

A similar PWA supports shoe manufacturer Van Bommel in the purchasing of products and materials.

Build faster with greater control

PWAs don’t only offer benefits to users. Building a PWA is similar to developing a website. Building a mobile app for iOS and/or Android is much more work, and also requires expensive specialists. Publishing your app to app stores also takes time and money. We are also seeing that businesses only give limited permission for apps to be installed on their devices. Large organizations often use their own, limited, version of app stores, which you can’t easily get your app into. With PWAs, you don’t have to deal with this, and therefore achieve a shorter time to value. That advantage also applies to updates: you have 100% control and never have to wait for third-party approval.

PWAs with Mendix

Starting in early 2021, Mendix will support PWAs. That means Mendix’s rapid build process will be available to PWAs. A business consultant can take on the entire process, from establishing requirements to delivering the app to a test environment in the cloud. So there is no need to employ software engineers - who are currently difficult to recruit. The consultant builds the data model and creates the screens using drag & drop, i.e. without code. In these, we can then easily build business logic using flow diagrams.

"A low-code PWA that is in production can be modified or expanded by business people or IT administrators, without the intervention of a development team. This provides extra speed and agility."

These indicate what should happen when a user clicks a button, for example, or when a status changes. The app is then ready to be tested. The Mendix platform provides all the underlying technology. Integration with the underlying software such as order management, supply chain, PIM or CRM is also realized quickly in Mendix. A low-code PWA that is in production can be modified or expanded by business people or IT administrators, without the intervention of a development team. This provides extra speed and agility.

Where do PWAs fit into your strategy?

PWAs fit well into the trend that everything needs to be faster and more flexible. PWAs can be a differentiating factor in your digital strategy in several ways:

  • Shorter time to market. Flexible, digitized internal processes allow for faster product development and an improved response to changes in your market.
  • photo-1597740985671-2a8a3b80502eMore digital and innovative thinking. One app project inspires another. Once people see what you can accomplish in a few weeks with a Mendix PWA, the innovative ideas and projects will start coming thick and fast.
  • Differentiation and personalization. With PWAs, you easily add interaction to the buying and configuration process to support differentiation and personalization.
  • New services. From razor blades to cars and from the hairdresser to the notary: everything is becoming a subscription or digital service. And all those services are supported online with customer portals and apps. PWAs allow you to experiment quickly and with a limited budget, in the search for new opportunities.

Although PWAs are a new functionality in Mendix, the impact on the development process is actually small. Do you have experience in Mendix building interactive, responsive websites? Then building a PWA is hardly different, in theory. In theory, because with a PWA you will probably want to take advantage of the extra features, like offline usage, camera, location data, login and intensive user interaction. Setting this up naturally takes extra time. Low-code platforms like Mendix are being deployed in B2B in a variety of ways, but with the new capabilities, demanding B2C users can also be served increasingly well, and on a larger scale.

 

Andries Smit

Andries Smit

Andries Smit is the CTO of Mansystems & FlowFabric.

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