A few weeks ago Air Berlin demonstrated its Progressive Web App during the Google I/O developer conference.
It's staking a claim as the first airline with the service which enables users to access services such as a boarding pass at anytime and without an internet connection, after an initial web check-in.
The PWA also means travellers can receive push notifications such as gate changes and access additional travel information.
What PWAs do is enable a browser-like experience but with some of the capabilities of native apps and Alex Komoroske, group product manager for Google Chrome's web platform team, sees them as "a real turning point in the mobile web."
He describes the impact of PWAs, and the technology behind them (Service Workers), as similar to what Ajax did for online maps more than a decade go.
Tnooz talked to Komoroske on why PWAs are such a turning point and why they're good for travel.
He points out that on mobile the "interactive paradigms" are different in terms of smaller device, often inferior connectivity, typing can be a pain and people use them during moments when they're not doing anything else.
"People are pulling out their phone in the empty spaces - waiting at the bus stop and without any specific goal but because you want to do something. You look at the icons in front of you and pick one so having that space on the home page is really important.
"Finally, push notifications - at the beginning they were kind of a gimmicky thing, now they are a fundamental UI turn on a mobile. There are many experiences that revolve around getting this timely information about things you care about. These things were really missing on the mobile web."
The Google Chrome team worked with Mozilla and other browser development folk to come up with something that wouldn't rely on a strong network connection, would enable push notifications and allow the user to add to the home page if they choose to.
"Those three things are what changed it all - they allowed what has been strong on the web to come to its full potential on mobile."
None of this means travel companies should abandon their app strategy in favour of PWAs but it may be that in some cases they can do all the things a user would need or want.
For example, clothing retailer Patagonia announced at the beginning of this month that is was disabling its mobile app because of how well its website now works via the mobile web thanks to PWAs.
"People will continue to build native apps, but more and more people are realising that this is all they need. They get that low friction of the web and the capabilities they need and realise they won’t need an app in every case where it was historically required. It's up to developers to figure out what’s good for their users."
Another potential benefit is that it gets around that "do or die moment" of whether to install an app or not. If, for example, a traveller is using a carrier he/she does not fly with that often they can choose to access only what they need.
Air Berlin is one of the first in the travel industry to go down the PWA route, (read more on the what and how here), but it's interesting to note that one of the original demos used by the Chrome team a year ago was something similar to the German airline. Komoroske adds:
"We thought it was such a perfect use case. You're in the airport with a flakey network but you want a boarding pass. Travel is a really natural fit."
One final benefit is that the technology is open source so any developer can use it.
Progressive Web App case studies from Google
NB: Apps image via Big Stock Photo.