Progressive Web Apps: Welcome back to your desktop!

By: Matt Ludwig

Welcome back

Hi,

It’s your desktop software.

It feels like I haven’t been able to tell you anything myself before, you know? I mean, I have things to say that you’d probably like to know about, and I do it on your mobile all the time, obviously. But here, on your desktop, it’s . . . complicated. We only ever email, and even then I’m the one sending all the emails - you’re not even able to reply. But that’s not really even the thing - it’s that . . . when I do email, you don’t get them at the right time, and I know you don’t read them all. So why are things weird this way? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to invite my creepy uncle Clippy (or ¡gasp! BOB) back to this relationship. I’m just saying it would be good if we could talk to each other, directly, you know?

Want to hug it out? Me too.

PWAs allow push notifications for desktop software

The question really is, why aren’t the makers of desktop applications leveraging their presence on the homescreen of desktops more? They should be building their wares in a way to have a direct 1:1 communication channel with their users. Instead, desktop software often doesn’t include a native connection to the Web and relies on sending an email rather than messages that push directly to users.

Example of desktop push notification

An evolution has taken place in browsers and in desktop operating systems. Without making much fuss about it, and with little fanfare, both have grown to a state where Progressive Web Apps can be built to fit any form factor, work online or offline seamlessly, and truly become a unique category of applications altogether. With this evolution, push notifications are now possible for desktop software. Users can be notified at the app level, with contextually-relevant messages, without relying on the inbox. Additionally, the same notifications can be employed to inform/prompt/help users during connectivity independent (offline) times, allowing for uninterrupted and continued working experiences (can I get a gig worker high-five?!).

That desktop software feeling, but with that Web App charm

Many of us just like using desktop software. There’s something about double clicking that icon on our desktop to fire up whatever program it is that we use for our job. Sure, the browser is there and all the new stuff we read about is being built for it but does everything we do on our computer need to be in a web browser tab? People enjoy habits, they enjoy routines, and honestly - what’s wrong with that? Yeah, we can totally relate . . . except, we can’t. At least, not entirely.

Any software built today should inherit some UX benchmarks that the Web has helped us realize are extremely beneficial. Things like inherent notifications over email reliance, a data-not-machine security model, adding new capabilities without having to update the entire app, and the ability to measure an application’s usage, customer needs, and software deficiencies. All of these points highlight how a Progressive Web App strategy really shines. A Progressive Web App strategy allows companies to bring the best of the Web’s user-engagement elements to their desktop products such as homescreen presence, a secure data framework, push notifications for re-engagement, and analytics to their product for the first time ever.

The notification-izing of desktop software

If a desktop software company had the ability to anonymously learn about a function or feature not being used, it could push notify users about its existence and abilities progressively over time, rather than sending a context-deficient email full of generic feeling marketing bullet points. Doing this would add inherent product value, educate the user, and avoid increasing bounce rates. This sort of customer-product UX insight in near real time is unheard of with the vast majority of desktop software installed today. For example, it’s fair to argue that Dropbox knows more about which product within the Microsoft Office suite gets used the most than Microsoft does, based only on files being opened or saved. Now, as the number one player in their market, Microsoft clearly makes huge efforts to test, innovate, and ship more and more web-connected desktop software all the time. But what about all the other companies who aren’t Microsoft? What is their strategy for measuring how well their software works or is even used (and iterating on it) once installed on a customer’s laptop?

Your software doesn’t have to run in a browser tab to have push notifications. Your desktop software wants to be connected to the Web and leverage its major evolutions for a better UX. Your desktop software wants to be able to measure what it’s doing right, where it’s missing the mark, and when to re-engage users so that they’re in turn, happy customers. And PWAs are zero-friction, zero-install, can leverage all the benefits of web analytics, and easy to share. A user can “keep” the app(s) they find most useful, all without any app store (or worse) or CD-install hassle.

It’s actually not that complicated.