The rise and rise of the progressive web app: how HR departments and their people are getting ahead by scrapping native apps 

Sam Radford
The rise and rise of the progressive web app

Everybody has someone in their lives who seems superhuman. Whether they’re a famous icon, a fabulous friend, or a parent, they seem to have it all, do it all, and still have time to cater for everybody else, without putting a foot wrong or getting a hair out of place. Who is that person for you? They’re effortlessly amazing, aren’t they? Well, if that person was a web technology, they’d be a progressive web app. 

Was that an unexpected pivot? Stick with me and by the end of this article you’ll understand why SenseHR are so excited about progressive web app (PWA) technology, as well as the benefits for organisations and their people. 

A PDA for the PWA 

Before launching into an unashamed public display of affection for progressive web apps, what exactly is a PWA? The short answer is this—it’s a ‘do-it-all’ hybrid, which combines the enhanced capabilities and reliability of a native app (that is, platform specific applications that are available to download from application stores like Google Play and the Apple App Store or via APK files) with the accessibility, speed, and barely-there system impact of a website. The term progressive web application was coined by designer Frances Berriman and Google Chrome engineer Alex Russell in 2015 by prefixing the already prevalent term ‘web application’ with the word ‘progressive’—I know, right—they don’t get the big bucks at Google for nothing. Like native apps, PWAs are capable, reliable, and ‘installable’ by design. They can securely access system files and media controls like cameras, microphones, sounds and haptic feedback. They can use device GPS and Bluetooth. They even have an offline mode and can adapt functionality with network quality. They can make use of augmented and virtual reality functions and much more. And they do all of this while taking advantage of the web’s inherent secure, user-centric permission model, and its accessibility for “anyone, anywhere, on any device with a single codebase”.  

But… how? 

A quick tech dive 

We’re not talking a deep dive—think somewhere between snorkel and full scuba gear—feel free to skip ahead to the next section if you’re more interested in the ‘what’s in it for me?’ bit, than the ‘how on earth does it do that?’…. but if you want to know a little more about the tech, then read-on my intrepid software explorer!  

While native apps and PWAs deliver a similar user experience, they look very different from a development perspective. PWAs are built with modern APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to create a truly adaptable app. They use only common web technologies, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Native apps are developed for each individual platform using that platform’s coding language, for example, Java or Kotlin for Android, and Swift or Objective-C for iOS. As Nick Chasinov, founder and CEO of Teknicks, rightly points out “this makes developing a PWA much faster and easier, because you only need to build one version that can be displayed seamlessly on almost any mobile device’s web browser”. And what’s easy for a developer can pay dividends for a user when their chosen application is always up to date, bug-free, and works seamlessly.  

The look and behaviour of a PWA is dictated by its web app manifest file, which defines information such as the name of the app, how the browser UI is displayed, how much of the website behaves like web application, icons, theme colours, and background colours. Without this, as progressive web app is just a website and can’t unlock features such as app shortcuts, badging for app icons, and access to device-level functionality. 

To match the offline capabilities and push notifications of a native app, PWAs employ service workers. And no, that’s not the ‘downstairs’ cast of Downton Abbey… but could certainly be described as their scripting equivalent. This aptly named script helps you retrieve the information that you need, whenever you need it—even offline—by clever caching of application resources. 

Phew! Still with me? Now for the best bit. 

How can a PWA help my HR department and my people? 

The truth is that PWAs can benefit any organisation, any department, and any web user. But let’s keep this HR specific because that’s what we’re all here for. 

Customisation 

Native applications can’t be indexed, listed in search engine results pages, or customised—PWAs can (although they can be coded not to). That means instead of directing your workforce to a native, third-party HR app or widget, you can direct them to YOUR own website, where your HR portal is branded to match your company colours and logo—even the URL can be customised to look like part of your own ecosystem.  

And for your people, using a PWA instead of a native app, means they can access their HR portal anywhere, anytime, and on any device. They don’t have to keep their work device to hand. What’s more, they can enjoy a unified, sleek, and recognisable experience. 

Security

With native web apps your security is largely in the hands of the third-party developer. But the innate security of PWAs comes from being hosted over HTTPS. These protocols prevent man-in-the-middle attacks by ensuring that exchanges between the server and client can’t be hacked. In this secure environment, you and your employees can always enter, send, and handle personal data, with peace of mind.  

Function without installation 

Native apps need to be downloaded and installed on each device. If you’ve been through that process, you know that it requires commitment. Not only is it time-consuming to find, download, install, and set permissions, but it takes up valuable device memory. After all that, your app had better give a good return on investment or it will be deleted and never downloaded again. Not so for the progressive web app. Although they include ‘install’ features, these are just links that mimic the functions of native apps. They can be added to your home screen, display predefined icons, employ push notification, and even icon badges. All this gives an app-like experience, even on low-end devices with limited capabilities. What’s more, they take up much less room than native apps. Just compare the Twitter native app at 23.5MB with Twitter lite (a PWA) at 600KB! And content is directly shareable.  

That means employees don’t have to download anything onto their personal devices to stay in the loop. It can also improve engagement and communication because your people can link and share vital content.   

Updates not needed 

Using a native app your employees could all have different experiences depending on the device that they’re using, the available updates for that device, and whether they’ve actioned those updates. But progressive web apps make endless updates a thing of the past. You and your employees no longer need to worry about having the latest version with all its required bug fixes. PWAs are always up to date, so everybody in your organisation has the best user experience that’s available, always. 

Speed 

A good PWA is fast. Not just quick—it’s the Bugatti Chiron of loading speeds. And because of data fetching, syncing, and cached responses, that performance only improves as your relationship with a PWA builds over time.  

George.com, a leading UK clothing brand and part of the ASDA supermarket chain, upgraded their site to a progressive web app and saw 3.8x faster average page load time. And Forbes reported that after launching their PWA, a mobile page “loads completely in eight tenths of a second, considerably faster than nearly all other news media sites”. 

For any busy HR department (… that’s every HR department, we know) and the employees who are trying to access and use the HR portal, the advantages of speed are self-evident.   

Offline capability 

While native apps do have offline functionality, it comes at the cost of computing power and the ability to make network requests in poor coverage areas. But that’s not the case with PWAs, as proven by Uber’s 50kb core ride request app, which loads quickly and works efficiently even on 2G networks.  

With the rise of remote and deskless workforces, offline or poor-quality network capabilities for HR software can be essential and, in any event, it’s always a nice feature to have. 

And the clincher…  

Native app technology has been around since 1997. Remember Nokia’s simple yet utterly addictive mobile game Snake? That’s considered by many to be the first native app. Native app technology has exploded since then, but in recent years progress has slowed. PWAs, on the other hand, are likely to reshape the web in the coming years.  Adoption is rapidly increasing, with many tech giants already having taken the plunge and sharing their success stories. And PWAs are discussed at conferences around the world with the same excitement that native apps elicited a couple of decades ago, so even though they’re already taking the edge over native apps, it seems the best is yet to come.  

So, for HR departments that want to get ahead, and stay there, all while serving their people with the best that web technology has to offer, the answer must be a PWA. 

The SenseHR PWA 

We never want to miss an opportunity to better serve you, your HR department, and your people. So, at SenseHR we’ve done our homework and we believe that PWAs are the clear future of web application development. They have it all, do it all, and can cater to all of your HR needs, without putting a foot wrong or getting a hair out of place.  

If you’re still not sure, register to take our PWA for a test-drive and experience the benefits for yourself. You’ll never look back—you’ll put your organisation so far ahead, that you won’t have to.  

Learn more about us

SenseHR is an HR System being built by HR technology experts with decades of experience working with HR teams across the UK and beyond, and is designed to help organisations not only manage a more flexible workplace, but to also grow and thrive as they welcome a new generation of people.

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