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Make Your Web App Look and Act Like a Mobile App

An Oracle APEX developer presents the progressive web app approach.

By Jeff Erickson

November/December 2018

Just about any mobile phone user would rather click an icon to open an app full-screen than type a long URL in a browser. So web developer and Oracle Application Express (Oracle APEX) expert Vincent Morneau went looking for a way for his web apps to deliver something closer to that native mobile app experience.

He found it in a relatively new mobile publishing approach: using progressive web apps (PWAs). PWAs are applications built by web developers using web technologies but that offer a look and feel similar to native mobile apps.

Morneau has been exploring and evangelizing this approach ever since: speaking at user group events and posting to his blog and GitHub account.

“People prefer using native apps on their phone,” for many reasons, he says. “A home screen icon just makes the app more accessible, it works when it’s offline, and it can also push notifications out to users.” Now, Morneau says, web applications can do all these things with PWA technologies.

I caught Morneau’s PWA session at ODTUG Kscope18 in Orlando, Florida, where Morneau showed how to use Oracle APEX in Oracle Database, along with JavaScript and a small set of modern browser APIs, to build a PWA.

PWAs open up a lot of possibilities for developers, “because we’re not just building web apps anymore,” he says. “We’re simply building apps, which are no longer different from native mobile apps.”

Like native mobile apps, PWAs also support offline operations. “A native app can still work offline by offering partial functionality” and will synchronize pending requests with the server when the connectivity comes back, Morneau says.

There are a ton of mobile use cases where a stable internet connection just isn’t a reality. “In my research, I came across an Oracle APEX application that needed to be usable on off-grid farms,” he says. Because it was delivered as a PWA, farmers could enter measurements directly into the web application, which was automatically synchronized with the server when connectivity came back. Another common use case is the subway, “where you might lose the signal for a minute or two but you’re not interrupted,” he says.

In the end, PWAs fit the way Morneau likes to develop Oracle APEX apps. “I’ve always been a web developer. I love the openness of the web and the freedom it gives,” he says. “I don’t like having to learn multiple languages to publish the same app on iOS and Android…and I love the fact that PWAs can be released seamlessly via the web and don’t require system updates.”

Next Steps

WATCH Morneau’s Oracle APEX–to-PWA full walk-through.

FOLLOW Morneau’s PWA project on GitHub.

Illustration by Wes Rowell