The gig economy and developing nations; how Progressive Web Apps will help save the world.

By: Matt Ludwig

Ever had an Uber or Lyft ride where the driver can’t get the ride session to close out in the app at the destination because the data connection won’t go through? Me too. Now, have you ever considered what it’s like for that same type of gig worker in a developing nation somewhere in the world, trying to make a living from the same job? (Ridesharing, on-demand deliveries, utility metering, space renting, rural infrastructure surveying, etc.) No? Well, then you probably can’t relate to the image above as much as they can. It’s rough.

Still not convinced? Maybe because your office or home has a gigabit fiber connection and your Google Fi phone “just works” wherever you are in North America? Yeah, that’s probably one of the reasons right there. You, your employees, and your environment in the majority of North America and Europe are not reflective of the world’s population of internet users.

Don’t get me wrong, I too feel the struggle is real when my 60mb WiFi goes down and I have to TOTO. But that’s far from a ‘struggle’ in many daily experiences of a huge growing percentage of gig workers across developing nations. Many companies (state-run and private) can’t afford to invest in native mobile solutions as the amount of work required to maintain these complex stacks for synonymous on/offline performance is just too costly for native apps. All too often ignored is the fact that all of this is overwhelmingly possible to solve with a Progressive Web App strategy with no workarounds or hacks. Even for just this reason alone.The struggle is really real, but it doesn’t need to be.

The need for connecting frontier markets to gig economy jobs with software is real, and only getting more so. Sporadic data connections are a big network problem, but not affording gig workers and their customers with software that flourishes within that sporadic on-then-offline environment, is a bigger problem. Moreover, the opportunity for those companies who adopt and build on a Progressive Web App software strategy is potentially even larger … but only if they adopt one.

“But our corporate WiFi is never down!”

Liar. I’ve worked in, visited, and designed software solutions in countless major corporate offices across the globe, and the common trait among them all are glitchy internet connections. All of them. It’s not for a lack of preventative maintenance, availability, or skill; corporate WLAN’s are just fickle beasts. Fickle, in that they suffer from ISP blips/outages (that’s just life), and also because their inherent designs for access and usage can be something out of a David Bowie movie: all kinds of hoops to jump through to get on the network, then firewall issues with CorpA device on CorpB’s network, and firewalls blocking certain “untrusted” (or more likely, “unknown”) URLs, etc..

The focus here is clearly on the gig worker’s experience and how Progressive Web Apps can enable incredible benefits for them in emerging markets. However, it turns out that many multinational corporations in those same markets also struggle with providing a positive and productive enterprise software UX that adequately handles the regional internet and offline issues. A software solution built around a Progressive Web App strategy could, in fact, handle these constant connectivity interruptions with ease, if it was built as a PWA. In both use cases, the worker just wants an app that lets them do the thing they need to do when they need to do it, with or without an internet connection, securely. Then, they want the software to figure out what/when/how it all gets synced to the cloud later. Or now. Whatever. Progressive Web Apps are available to use all the time and sync any data written with them whenever they can (hooray for local storage!). So why don’t more corporations with a footprint in developing nations consider PWAs for their enterprise software strategies? As we’ve written on this topic in detail before, we feel they should.

The zen of offline PWA maintenance.

As software offerings that power gig economy companies expand more and more within regions of developing nations, an application strategy that puts a lightweight, robust offline UX above other things is critical for success. PWAs have an inherent data security model (SSL), can be used the same whether the device in hand (mobile phone, tablet, or laptop) has an internet connection or not, message the user of connectivity issues and with native push notifications, and leverage the power of background data sync whenever an available network connection is detected.

Sure network infrastructure and internet connectivity will continue to improve across the globe, but that horizon is much further away than the opportunities for gig economy companies to launch in the same regions today. This next wave of emerging market gig workers urgently need software with robust fault-tolerant network UX solutions, and Progressive Web Apps could be the thing that saves them.