Websites and Apps and PWAs, Oh My!

Some of you have had questions about how our app works, and why it is installed differently than you may have expected. Here are some answers!
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Good morning, everyone! My name’s Kevin Halfhill, and I’m the CTO at Southwest Storm Chasers. I came onboard earlier this year to work with Dean, SWSC’s CEO, to fulfil our community’s request for a mobile app. I’m excited to be here, and the entire SWSC team is proud to share our first mobile app with you!

Some of you have had questions about how our app works, and why it is installed differently than you may have expected. I’m here to answer those questions and give you a glimpse of where we’re headed next.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: Our app is optional. We’re not forcing anyone to use it. If you still prefer getting your reports on Facebook, that option will be available to you, forever. In fact, because of the way our app interfaces with Facebook, our weather reports will be easier to read and digest—directly on Facebook—than ever before. You can use Facebook’s own app settings to control whether to read our reports directly in Facebook’s app, or open them in your phone’s browser.

For those of you who do want to use our app, welcome to version 1.0. We’ve chosen to publish it as a PWA across all platforms. What does that mean, you ask? Read on to find out!

What is a PWA?

PWA stands for Progressive Web App. PWAs are built from the same technologies that we all use everyday across all of our devices: the rich language that is the worldwide web. However, unlike a vanilla website, PWAs are installable to a mobile device or desktop computer, after which they have the same feel and functionality of an actual native app. Unlike a website, PWAs can run full-screen, and they can run offline. Many websites you may already be using are actually PWAs: Twitter, Starbucks, Pinterest, and Uber, for example, have all converted their sites into PWAs.

Why we chose PWA for our first mobile app

There were a few reasons we chose to go down this route. The most important one: Development costs. As many of you know, SWSC is a small, volunteer-run organization with, thus far, extremely limited funding. The cost to develop a native app for both Android and iOS simply wasn’t feasible. Additionally, the cost—both financial and volunteer-wise—to maintain apps and content across both platforms, while continuing to maintain our Facebook page, would simply have exceeded our ability.

Ultimately, the PWA was not only within our budget but also within our power to maintain for our community. At the end of the day, this was an affordable option that provided an identical user experience for all of our followers, no matter what device they were using. Our weather reports are now accessible within Facebook, from any web browser, and installable on Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows.

Why move to our app from Facebook?

So, now you may be asking yourself, “Why should I use our app instead of Facebook?” Lots of reasons! Here are the biggest advantages:

  • Updates in background: Our app will update with new information in the background, so you’ll have the latest information at your fingertips.
  • Works Offline: PWAs work offline, just like a native app. This means that, even if you lose your data connection, you’ll have access to weather data that’s current as of your last connection; you’ll automatically get the latest updates as soon as your device re-establishes its data connection.
  • Push notifications: We send out a push notification anytime we publish a weather warning, yellow warning, or amber warning, as well as for our daily weather reports. (Due to limitations in Apple’s operating system, this feature is currently limited to Android, we hope to add iOS support in the future).
  • No more waiting for your newsfeed.
  • Find what you’re looking for with one click, instead of scrolling through our Facebook page to find the weather.

What’s next for our app?

We have lots of things planned in the coming months, including:

  • More great photos of our community
  • Additional weather information and reports, such as our upcoming Coastal Reports
  • Community content and updates

Your support matters to our future!

We appreciate all of your support! Please continue to tell your friends, share our weather reports, follow our posts on Facebook, and use our app for the latest in weather and local community stories in Southwest UK.

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