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Progressive Web Apps vs Native Apps: A Comparison

Software applications have typically been written to work in our operating systems like Windows and macOS, but with the improvements made to the Internet, it is now possible to make web pages that act like software applications. A few examples of this would be Gmail, Google Docs, or Microsoft Word online. These web based applications are commonly called Progressive Web Apps or PWAs because they are applications that can use your device’s hardware similarly to an application built for that device. This is why applications like Microsoft Word and others are referred to as native apps Lets compare the two types of applications, and then we can determine if one approach is better than the other.

Native Applications

Native applications are applications or programs built on a particular platform in the native SDKs of that platform. This would be similar to a developer building an iOS app in Swift or an Android app in Java or Koklin. Native applications compile to machine code, and are loaded on a person’s device through an installer, or an app store.

Benefits

Native apps are built using Software Developer Kits herein called SDKs and Application Programming Interfaces which will herein be called APIs. these SDKs and APIs let developers write code specifically for a certain set of devices. This allows the applications to run faster with low latency. This means that your games will not lag, and your GPS will update quickly.

An applications look and feel mean a lot to a user, and an app that is built natively will more than likely look like it was built specifically for a certain device. There are several methods for building cross platform apps, but using a platform’s built in and familiar user interface controls will always make users happy.

Even desktop users are concerned these days about how many resources an app uses, and this is why native apps can shine. Native apps do not run in conjunction with a web browser or other platform, so resources can be used the least to get the same job done.

Drawbacks

Native applications are amazing but they have a few limitations. The first of these is that they have to be updated. A Progressive Web App can be updated on the fly, but an app that is installed on a device needs to be updated on each device for the user to get the benefits of the software change.

User Interface design takes a lot of time, and developing a good interface for multiple devices takes time and effort. The User Interface used on iOS should not be the exact same for Android and so on. WhatsApp for iOS does not look anything like WhatsApp for Android, and neither does Facebook. This means that a user interface must be created for each platform for a native app, which can take more time and money than a company is willing to invest.

Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web apps are applications built on the web. They still use the standard HTML pages we have come to rely on when we go to a website, but they then use JavaScript and other languages to refresh the page content without refreshing the entire page. Again, examples of this would be Gmail, Google Docs, and Microsoft Word Online.

Benefits

Progressive Web Apps allow developers and designers the ability to develop and deploy without having to send out a massive update to users. A developer can commit changes to the application and the user will see those changes the next time they login to the web app. This makes Progressive Web Apps very scalable, and free from review periods which Apple and others require on native applications.

While having a native interface is good for built in applications, Progressive Web Apps can deliver the same user interface across platforms. This means that the user will see the same interface on a Chromebook as they would see in Microsoft Edge in Windows or Safari for macOS.

Drawbacks

Progressive Web Apps do have their drawbacks. The most notable one is that they do not always provide an easy way to be used offline. Many of these do, but there are many that do not work while offline.

As said earlier, computer resources are essential, and multiple browser tabs with web applications can take up your computer’s resources. This is why Chromebooks also allow for Native Android apps along with Chrome web apps so that the user can use both on a chrome based machine.

Accessibility practices are key for blind and low vision users to have equal access to online applications. Native apps are no where near perfect in this space either, but they do have an edge as many PWA frameworks do not allow for accessibility out of the box. This is why many online apps have accessibility barriers where as many native apps that fulfill the same use case work well with screen readers.

Conclusion

Both Native Apps and Progressive Web Apps have their place in the modern Internet and both solutions have their strengths and weaknesses. The important thing is for developers to know when to use the right solution, and for users to know what works best for them. For example, I find that Microsoft Word online is a bit cumbersome, so I prefer to use Word for Windows or Mac. The same goes for mail. Gmail has a nice online UI, but I find that a native mail client works best for me. The nice thing though is that I have the option to use Gmail online if I am not at my own computer, and the interface works well not matter where I go.

The reason we felt that this article needed to be written was so that users could learn the difference between these kinds of applications and so that people could be aware that there is usually more than one option available, and to use what works best instead of what others want you to use.

We also advise that you reach out to both native app developers and web app developers alike and leave feedback on how each experience can be made better.

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iA Cast iA Cast Weekly

#iACast 129 – What Is An App

Show description

On this episode, Michael and Jason discuss the fundamental definition of an app. They also discuss some of the differences between Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android apps, and the methods for developing them.

News

Android 10 has been released.
Apple’s September 10th event will be held at the Steve Jobs Theater.

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SwiftUI Training by iAccessibility

Picks

Jason: The Big Bang Theory
Michael: The Powerbeats Pro

Providing Feedback

We love hearing from you, so feel free to send an email to feedback@iaccessibility.net. You can follow us on Facebook, and Twitter. You can also find us on Reddit, and all around the web. Also, don’t forget to check out our YouTube page, and for all things iACast, check out our iACast page. If you’d like to help support us, you can do so via our PayPal and Patreon pages. If you wish to interact with us during our podcasts live then please do join us on our Slack channel.

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iAccessibility 1.4 for iOS

iAccessibility is proud to announce that version 1.4 of our app has been released to the app store. This version includes new shortcuts to start and stop playback of our live stream, and a shortcut to listen to our ten latest episodes. You must first perform these actions in the app for Siri to find them, but you can then use the settings app to add a phrase with Siri to activate these features while your phone is unlocked. We have also made bug fixes to the app, and we will have more to come shortly.

Download app: iAccessibility for iOS

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iA Cast iA DemoCast

iA DemoCast 13: iAccessibility for iOS

On this episode of he iA DemoCast, Jason Earls demonstrates the iAccessibility app for iOS by going through each element of the app.

iAccessibility on the App Store

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iA Cast

#iACast DemoCast 6: Prizmo Go

In this Demo Cast, Jason demonstrates Prizmo Go, a free app for iOS that allows the user to scan and read text. Download the app by following this link:

Prizmo Go – Instant Text Capture on the App Store

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iA Cast

#iACast DemoCast 4 – Echo Dot

In this episode of the iA DemoCast, Aleeha sets up the Amazon Echo Dot for the first time with iOS Alexa app. She then demonstrates a few things you can try with your own Alexa enabled device.

Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Alexa App for iOS
Amazon Alexa App for Android

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Hours Time Tracking for iOS Provides Only Seconds of Accessibility

I recently have been looking for good time tracking apps for iOS and Android to keep track of my project hours. I went to the App Store business section in iOS and found the app Hours which promised to do just that. As a visual user I found the app to be appealing and would do what I wanted, but I fired up VoiceOver, and received a completely different experience.

How does Hours work

Hours lets the user create a new project, with basic text fields. Once you create your project you can track how much time you work on that project. One nice thing about this app is that it lets you track multiple projects at the same time so you can record your hours for multiple projects.

Accessibility Issues

Once I downloaded this app I was happy to see a mainly text interface, but my happiness stopped there. Once I enabled VoiceOver I only received, “Button” on any graphical button. To make matters worse, the buttons would not work while VoiceOver was on, which makes the app unusable to VoiceOver users. Beyond this presenting a problem to VoiceOver users, sighted users with partial to low vision will have a difficult time using this app because the buttons to me at least, do not tell me anything by just looking at the pictures, so I would need to use VoiceOver to gain perspective on what I am doing, so this makes this app fairly useless to low vision users as well.

Conclusion

While it is a great concept, Hours is not the app for blind and low vision users. Its lack of labeled and usable buttons with VoiceOver makes this app be unaccessible, and I urge the developer to take a look at the accessibilityHint and accessibilityLabel attributes to make these buttons accessible. It is also on Apple because they are featuring these apps which not all users can use.

Hours Time Tracker – iOS App Store

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Sling’s Accessibility should be in a Sling.

Sling TV is an online cable service that brings cable TV channels to your smartphone, tablet, and computer. While Sling TV brings much to the table like affordable plans and a 7 day free trial, their accessibility and app features have much to be improved upon. Lets take a look at both of these things.

Sling Accessibility

Sling TV allows for users to sign up and sign in to the app, but the accessibility stops there for the most part. While users can find the menu and guide, a user can not browse the channel listings that are in the app. Visually, the channel listings are in a scrollable control that slides left and right and once an option appears in the middle of the screen then that channel’s listings appear. This functionality does not work with VoiceOver, and the schedules will also only tell the times that something is to be shown. The show title only appears as an image with no alt text included.

Sling TV App Features

While iOS has moved on the Sling TV app has not. While using the Sling app on iPad I noticed that they do not support Picture in Picture support at this time, and the interface is still that of an iOS 7 app that does not scale with size classes as most modern apps do.

Conclusion

While Sling TV provides a great online based cable TV experience, it still lacks features that other services provide, and VoiceOver users will find that the app lacks the accessibility required for everyday use. As a low vision user I plan to continue my subscription after my trial, but milage will vary when this app is concerned. Hopefully support for accessibility and feature sets will improve when single sign on and the TV app are released to the public because they both support Sling TV.

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VO Starter 3.0 Public Beta

iAccessibility is proud to announce that VO Starter 3.0 is now in the Beta phase of development. As such, we are offering the opportunity for a public beta test through TestFlight. If you are interested, please fill out the form below and you will receive a TestFlight invite in your email. We will remove the form if or when we run out of testing slots. We hope you enjoy the app.

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Traveling Made Easy with Tile

Have you ever traveled to a destination and had difficulty finding your luggage? Tile, a new device with a mobile app aims to fix this issue is now available, but is this solution accessible? Lets take a look at the app and the devices themselves.

Picture of Tile device. Device is a white square with rounded corners with the word Tile in a light grey. It also has a round hole in a corner for a key ring.•What is a Tile?

A Tile is a small device that is sure. It has the word Tile on the device, and the e is a button to press to find your phone or pair the device with your phone. There is no tactile way of knowing where this button is, so I simply pressed on the device until I found it since it is very small.

There is also a round hole in the device to add the device to your key ring so you could use it to find your keys, or attach the device to another object.

The Tile does not have a place to charge the device, so when the device runs out of battery power then it is dead. Tiles use Bluetooth LE, which stands for low energy to be found only when called upon. They use very low amounts of energy, so the battery should last for years.

Any device running the Tile app that supports Bluetooth LE is also a Tile. You can find your iPhone or iPad that is paired to a tile by pressing the e on the Tile device.

The Tile App

The Tile app is how you set up your tile devices with your phone. To use this app, Bluetooth must be on, and you must have a connection to the Internet.

Once you start the app you will need to sign up or sign in. I did not do this portion of the review with VoiceOver, so if someone could add their experience with signup in the comments then we will have a better understanding of this part of the app.

After you sign up, you will be asked to buy a Tile or Pair one. We will assume that you already have a Tile and are going to pair it with your phone or tablet. To pair your Tile to your phone, do the following steps when you are at the correct place in setup.

  1. Hold the pairing button on the Tile, which is the letter e button until it plays a note or tune.
  2. Keep the device near your phone until the phone states that it is paired.
  3. When prompted, type the name of the Tile that describes what the Tile will be used for, examples are keys, luggage, or backpacks.

While text is readable on the add screen, the buttons are not properly labeled and can be confusing.

Once a Tile is set up, you should see all of your tiles in a table view. At the time of this writing, the table view only shows button labels, and the labels that you give to your tiles during the adding process are not read by VoiceOver. You will also notice that no labels in the detail screens are read either, which makes the Tile service completely unusable to VoiceOver users. Buttons and text elements can gain focus by VoiceOver, but only the button and text label names are read instead of their contents.

Conclusion

While the Tile devices are a good way to find luggage and items that you can’t easily find, they do not offer a good experience at this time for VoiceOver users, and the lack of a tactile pairing button on the actual Tile make it difficult for visually impaired and blind users to even pair their devices to their phones.

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First Look: Ride Austin

There have been many new ridesharing services to enter Austin since Lyft and Uber have left us, but one stands out and may be the one service to rule them all. Ride Austin is an app developed by local Austin tech companies and the app is a nonprofit service. The developers have promised that the service would be open source so that other cities could use it to develop their own ride sharing hubs.

Ride Austin Accessibility

Even though the service for Ride Austin is not in place you can still download the app, and I did this to check out if the app is accessible. I was able to fully sign up for the service using Facebook, get and enter a verification code from my text messages, and explore the app without any issues with VoiceOver. The menu at the top left was accessible, and the button telling me that there was no drivers available was also accessible.

The company has not added the portion for a payment method yet, so we will have to wait and see how accessible this part of the app will be, but it is interesting to note that the Ride Austin app is more accessible than Get Me, or FARE. Both Get Me and FARE are for profit apps, and that is why it is interesting that a nonprofit app works better than the others.

Conclusion

Ride Austin is a new service, and it will start operating in June. I suggest that you sign up for the service and show the developers that you are interested in what they have to offer. Ride Austin is a fully accessible app, and lets all speak up and let the developers know that we appreciate this level of detail. Ride now will start with rides downtown and at the airport in June, and will move around the city from there after they see how well the service works.

Ride Austin website

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Learning Xcode with VoiceOver

Are you a blind or low vision user of the Mac and want to know if you can use Xcode to build apps for iOS or for the Mac? Alex Hall over at AppleVis has written a great guide to show new readers how to use Xcode with Apple’s screen reader VoiceOver.

A VoiceOver User’s Guide to Xcode