In the last couple of weeks, we released Sitewards/Magento-WebAppManifest. Hooray!

At Sitewards, we have a period of weekly "dev improvement" time that we can spend improving ourselves, or a system that is annoying us. My colleagues Tobias Hartmann, Patrick Kubica and I were able use this time to build and release an extension that allows the publishing of a web app manifest to a Magento 1.x store with very little effort. We're super excited about the work improving the web, and we have an going effort to allow Magento to take advantage of these more modern web standards. It was developed with inspiration from the Meanbee extension of the same purpose for Magento 2 and forms part of an ongoing effort to deliver new capabilities to our partner websites, giving them an edge in the market.

The good news is, you can try it! It's freely available on GitHub. Check it out at https://github.com/sitewards/magento-webappmanifest.

To celebrate the release I think it is worth taking stock; to consider what the web was yesterday, what it is today and what it is shaping up to be in the near future.

The world wide web has existed in some form or other since Tim Berners-Lee wrote the spec for HTTP in in 1989. However, it has undergone vast changes in that period, moving from a simple text-only format used for delivering technical information at CERN to a full and rich application environment, rivalling applications written natively for operating systems such as iOS, Android or Windows. In these past 30 years, the technical infrastructure required to deliver larger bandwidths in the western world has developed at a terrifying rate, allowing the creation of large applications delivered seamlessly to users. JavaScript's invention by Brendan Eich in 1995 and CSS by the WWWC in 1996 allows rich, colourful applications that look and feel natural to use. Today, the web is simply part of life, and has a wide range of capabilities from shopping, information lookup, games and social networking.

However, there are still some challenges that face the web today. The popularisation of the mobile web with the initial release of the iPhone and subsequent release of Android have rapidly expanded the reach of the web, but also changed how it is consumed. In Germany the % of the internet accessed via mobile is 30%, but other countries such as India and Nigeria are seeing a whopping 80% of all traffic via mobile. The mobile web presents new challenges such as:

  • Considerably slower, and less reliable web connectivity
  • Dealing with battery life
  • More expensive bandwidth usage

but also new opportunities, such as:

  • Context specific information, such as information based on the users location
  • Integration with phone hardware, such as cameras, RFID or BlueTooth
  • A uniquely useful source of information to the user during downtime, such as travel.

The set of technology designed to help address some of these flaws and take advantage of the opportunities found is called a "progressive web app". This is explained by Google as being:

Reliable: Load instantly and never show the downasaur, even in uncertain network conditions.
Fast: Respond quickly to user interactions with silky smooth animations and no janky scrolling.
Engaging: Feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.

More broadly; the web is becoming a first class Citizen on mobiles; able to do everything that applications written directly for OS itself can. It presents exciting opportunities such as being able to continue to browse a website even while the network is disconnected, install the website as an "app" directly on the home screen or send push notifications informing the user some event has occurred in which they may be interested.

The release of the Sitewards/Webappmanifest is a small step in our move to take on these new challenges, and advantage of the opportunities. We're excited for the future of the web, and would love to partner with you to help bring this technology to your users.

If this is something you're interested in, get in touch! We'd love to answer any questions that you have.