A look at the ideas and projects we're working on as we strive to grow and improve ReliefWeb.

ReliefWeb Lite - thinking about low bandwidth-countries Progressive Web App

By Amy Benson
Tags: mobile, labs

Mobile usage continues to grow across the world and browsers are introducing new features that enable web developers to introduce app-like features on their website. ReliefWeb has been no exception - the usage of mobile devices to access our content has been steadily growing, now averaging 30% of all usage. In addition to native mobile apps we have introduced last year, we thought now was a good time to experiment with how ReliefWeb could take advantage of this latest technology trend to offer greater user experience on ReliefWeb.

Introducing the ReliefWeb Lite Progressive Web App - a cut-down version of ReliefWeb aimed primarily at users on mobile, but also at desktop users on low bandwidth connections including those humanitarian workers in remote areas. ReliefWeb Lite is different to the existing mobile site as it uses a Javascript framework (Preact with Next.js) and new Progressive Web App features in browsers to provide a more app-like user experience without requiring users to install a native app.

Some key features of ReliefWeb Lite

Engaging, app-like, user experience: Add ReliefWeb Lite icon to your phone desktop for easy access

Repeat visitors are prompted to add the app to their home screen. When opened from the home screen icon the app opens full screen so it feels more like a native app, plus a splash screen is shown while it’s being loaded.

Fast - Even in areas with low connectivity

Top level pages are preloaded so navigating around the site is quick. A service worker is used to cache assets and pages to make repeat visits speedy.

Reliable - Read visited pages when you are offline

Internet connections can often be flaky causing your connection to drop while using a website, even more in the countries where humanitarians work. On ReliefWeb Lite if this happens you can continue to navigate around pages you’ve already visited, plus there’s a branded offline page so if you can’t access content you’ll still feel like you’re in the app.

More accessible - No need for extra space or a brand new phone

Is your phone running out of storage? People with older phones or low storage are now starting to find they can’t install or update apps from the App / Play store as they’ll be optimised for newer versions of the Android or iOS, but with a PWA all you need is an internet browser. Plus, as PWAs are a progressive enhancement, even if your browser* doesn’t support all the new features you’ll still be able to use it as a normal website.

Takes up less space

Native apps are often large and bloated, taking up a lot of room on your phone or tablet. Even a small Android app will still be around 12mb. Installing ReliefWeb Lite by adding it to the home screen takes up only 108kb on Android.

What’s the catch?

Currently Chrome is the only browser to fully support PWA features, Firefox has implemented some and we can expect more soon, other major browsers such as Safari and Microsoft Edge have PWA features in their development roadmaps so hopefully, it won’t be too long until they support them.

Looking to the future

There’s more you can do with Progressive Web Apps, including push notifications and saving content for offline use. We’ll continue to learn and experiment as the technology grows.

We welcome your comments, feedback and suggestions about ReliefWeb Lite. Feel free to contact us.

*ReliefWeb Lite has been tested in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, IE 9+, Edge, Opera mini and Android Browser 4+

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