Boundaries between web and app are blurring

Posted by Erik van de Ven on Apr 25, 2017 9:00:00 AM

The momentum for modern web technologies and JavaScript frameworks keeps growing. These frameworks allow for a fast and fluent, app-like, user experience on the web. On top of this, we see the lines between web and app development blurring further. The web is getting features that were only available to apps before and developers are now also able to build quality (native) apps at a fast pace based on web technologies.

Here are five areas where the web is challenging apps:

An app-like experience on the web - Mobile apps users have always been used to a fast and fluent user experience for their digital interactions. Until recent years the experience on the web has been subpar compared with the mobile app experience.

One of the key reasons the web experience has been lagging the app experience is the need to support legacy browsers. Thankfully, there has been a major breakthrough at the beginning of 2016 when Microsoft officially stopped the support of all Internet Explorer versions below 11.
This has enabled an enormous growth of modern JavaScript frameworks usage, that make it possible to create mobile app like experiences on the web.

So far, modern JavaScript frameworks have been mainly used on transactional pages. One of the reasons for this is that the initial render time of these pages is slower than static pages because the framework needs to be downloaded and initialized before it can start fetching data and rendering the view. Another reason is that search engine optimization has been more cumbersome for pages generated with these frameworks.

To overcome this, the most popular frameworks now make it possible to render the initial HTML on the server side. This is bringing the best of both worlds: SEO friendly fast initial load and fast and fluent user experience. The next year this technology will be more and more used,
especially in ecommerce pages.

Web vs native apps Browser makers, with Google and Mozilla leading the pack, are continuing to invest in improving the web experience, for example by bringing mobile app features to the browser. Modern web apps can use push notifications, pin webpages to the home screen, be opened in full screen mode and cache itself for instant loading. In the next years, we expect to see a big rise in the use of these, so called, progressive web apps features.

Hybrid Apps: a single code base for the web and app. Besides using these apps on the web, it is also possible to distribute them through app stores by using native containers (e.g. Apache Cordova). This also allows for making use of native device capabilities that are not accessible through, or have a subpar experience on, the web (e.g. Camera, GPS, Storage, Maps, notifications).

Key advantage of these hybrid apps is that, next to sharing code with the web, they can be updated without going through the app stores approval processes. These hybrid applications need fewer developers, as they share code with the web app, and have a faster time to market than native apps. Some popular apps built with this technology are: Untappd and Sworkit.

Creating native apps with web technologies Another trend we see is that these JavaScript frameworks can now form the basis of native apps. Frameworks like React Native and NativeScript allow developers to use the web frameworks they already know to create native mobile apps. Apps like Facebook, AirBnb and Instagram are already built using these technologies. More and more apps will be developed based on these frameworks.

Next to leveraging your frontend developers for your mobile apps, you also need less of them as the apps will have a single code base for all platforms. Compared with Hybrid apps these apps will, in general, have a smoother user experience. On the other hand, Hybrid apps require less development effort as more code from the web can be reused.

This article is part of the Urgent Future IT Forecast 2017.

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Topics: Agile Software Development

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