Why Progressive?

Whenever a new term joins the lexicon it is interesting to see people wrestle with it. I have had plenty folk question “Why Progressive Web Apps?”, relating to the term rather than the features.

As the conversation goes deeper I have found you end up talking about a series of questions that include:

Do we really need a new term? Won’t this become “the web” again?

Yes! We don’t talk about Ajax apps any more, unless we are talking about historical context. We also don’t say “color tv” anymore. I don’t think the term “mobile web” will stick around in the same way for too much longer too, as you almost assume that the “web” at least includes mobile.

Apps? What about web sites?

I feel like this is the most confusing piece for people. It is easy to self-select out of the conversation by thinking “well, I have a website, so I guess I don’t care about progressive web apps?”

No. We are all working to make the web more capable and the menu of capabilities very much matters to websites.

The web has always been fantastic for content, and it continues to be so. There is a reason why there are so many WebViews out there. Actually there are several, but one of them is that the web does a great job at laying out content, and the engine that does this is on every computing platform.

If you think of yourself as building websites, then you are just as much a part of this and can use the new capabilities to make those sites as fast and delicious as possible.

ASIDE: Progressive rendering is something to look into here!

But we need to be able to build apps and not only be locked into WebViews. The ability to progressively add value when the user wants it allows for nuanced usage where your experience can morph for your loyal users. We think the web has advantages here.

So, when you see “apps” don’t think “only for things that my mental model thinks of as an app” and instead substitute it with “have the capabilities that apps have available to me”.

We already have the terms we need: responsive and adaptable

Responsive is a key component of the progression of the Web, allowing us to not just cater mobile and desktop, but all of the screens, however it is normally focused on design.

Adaptable captures more for me, since it invokes more capabilities than design (modalities etc), even though the roots were also in design. The word isn’t that inspiring though, and instead is much more practical.

When you look at the definition of progressive you see descriptions such as:

favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are.


making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.

I love that. It is future looking without leaving people behind today. We want to make things better for devs and users and this is the path. I would rather progress than purely adapt. One feels like we have some control and are part of the solution vs. moving to find some cheese.

It may be easier to sit back and adapt, but I would rather we pull together to progress. The more diverse we are, the better the results for all.

The mobile explosion came, and many of us focused on the new native app capabilities. Now we have these capabilities on the web it’s time to really take charge of your web experience.

That is why I like using the word “Progressive”, and why I want to help the web progress. I see the huge difference between the web experiences that we are capable of, and the web that I browse around on each day, and I want to narrow the gap between what is possible and what is available.

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