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What is a Progressive Web App

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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Over the last 18 months, I have seen more and more sites prompting me to "Add to Home Screen" from websites I have been browsing. Then you add this site, it installs itself in the background and is now accessible like a native app from your smartphone.

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What I have just described is the wondrous workings of a fairly new technology called Progressive Web Apps. This technology (called PWA) works even when you are offline and behaves like a "normal" smartphone app.

What are progressive web apps?

PWAs were created by Alex Russell and Frances Berriman. The technology driving Progressive Web Apps isn’t new. What was required was a new recipe to make Progressive Web Apps behave like native apps. This means that a progressive web app will work (as long as the platform supports it) on an iphone or Androis smartphone, a chromebook or ipad, on Windows or Mac.

True cross platform applications without needed to join an app store with super restrictive controls (I’m looking at you Apple).

Why Progressive Web apps

Like many of you, I live in a world with abundantly fast internet. This simply isn’t the reality everywhere. Even in my own backyard of Ontario (Canada), there are communities where internet is delivered via very slow ADSL,

PWAs, once installed, cache the content locally which means they will respond quickly even for those on slow internet connections.

Statistics show that users still prefer native apps to web pages. There are a tone of reasons for this from convenience (single click from your home screen), ability to get push notifications, etc. The web simply doesn’t offer the same bells and whistles.

PWAs offer most (if not all) native functions. They startup with a single click from the home screen and can hook into most native features. PWAs can even offer notifications (like a native app) and therefore remind the user to open and engage with the app.

What is required to build a progressive web app?

This is not a technical instructional article but you need 4 elements to build a Progressive Web App:

Google Firebase Web App Manifest Generator

Google Firebase Web App Manifest Generator

  1. Web App Manifest - It is a JSON file with meta data about the web app, It contains information such as the icon, background color, app name, etc.

  2. Service Workers - Even driven agents that work in the background. They perform tasks like updating the web app or its content.

  3. Icon - You need an icon to represent the Progressive Web App on the home screen

  4. HTTPS - The app and its content must be securely delivered over a TLS session.

Progressive Web app examples

You will find new PWAs every day but here are a couple of cool ones to get you started:

The best way to share your location with friends or family

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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Let's say you are meeting friends at a large outdoor concert, how do you provide your location? A street address may get them to the entrance gate, then what? What3words has proposed a solution that solves the issue of finding exact locations on a map?

What3words has divided the entire planet into 57 trillion 3mx3m grids and assigned each grid a unique three-word "address".  

If I want to meet friends at the entrance of Union Station in Toronto, I can search for "Union Station" in Google maps, and it will take me to the building but not necessarily the front entrance:

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Or I can give my friends the What3Words address for the main entrance 3mx3m square which is: tens.listed.surviving

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The What3Words address takes them directly to the entrance where I want to meet them. No ambiguity and no confusion.

In most western countries, we have mailing addresses but these aren't always easy to find. The most accurate mechanism has been latitude and longitude (which would look like this 43°38'43.3"N 79°22'51.9"W). Obviously, the three-word descriptor is easier to communicate and remember than the latitude/longitude. 

The entire world is mapped using about 40,000 words (it is available in multiple languages including French, Spanish, Arabic and more). Obviously, great care has gone into choosing the words to ensure there is nothing offending and no double meanings.  They have assigned more common words to locations in major centers. 

What3Words claims their tech is being used in over 170 countries by dozens of organizations from delivery companies (Aramex) to disaster relief coordination in the Philipines by the Red Cross. 

The entire mapping can be downloaded for use offline and consumes about 10MB of space. They are partnering with companies to build this tech into third-party apps. 

I really think this is a wonderfully unique approach to a problem everyone experiences and I hope more companies start using the What3Words technology. In the meantime, you can download their free Android and IOS app to get started. You can find the What3Words location address or navigate to any What3Words address (using your favorite Nav app installed on your IOS or Android phone (Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze).

Android App showing the entrance of Union Station

Android App showing the entrance of Union Station

Once you enter a three-word address, you can click on the navigate app and it will send the exact GPS coordinates to the location to any GPS app installed on your device.

Once you enter a three-word address, you can click on the navigate app and it will send the exact GPS coordinates to the location to any GPS app installed on your device.

Once you enter a three-word adress, you can share the exact location using any messaging app installed on your smartphone (Google Messages, Facebook, Whatsapp, etc). 

Once you enter a three-word adress, you can share the exact location using any messaging app installed on your smartphone (Google Messages, Facebook, Whatsapp, etc). 

Bypass Google's AMP with DeAMPify for Android

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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A handful of readers asked me to review the DeAmpify Android app and talk about it on my blog. So for those readers, here is my opinion.


Google introduced AMP in 2015 (Accelerated Mobile Pages) with the hope of speeding up the mobile web by degunking all of the junk publishers were adding to their web pages (tracking, advertising, etc.)

The CBC web page I am using for this article connects to 16 separate domains (to load content) and has eight different trackers. Obviously, this clogs up the page and makes it slower to load and less responsive.

Journalists and privacy advocates have been criticizing AMP because they claim it is another Google attempt to control content by encouraging publishers to use the search giant's AMP caching servers. Additionally, Google chooses what tags will be allowed for AMP markup on web pages. 

For those with modern high-end smartphones connected to super fast LTE networks, the difference is minor. But if you are on a mid-level phone or a slower connection, an AMP page could load in half the time. 

A crafty developer (Joao Dias) created an Android app called Deampify whose sole purpose in life is to convert AMP links back to "normal" web ones. The app is free with a small in app purchase option to unlock pro features:

  • Disable Ads
  • Ability to add exceptions so that some websites still show the AMP versions
  • Tasker integration so that you can load original pages when you’re on Wifi but load the faster AMP pages when you’re on 4G/3G for example. 

DeAMPify demonstration video

Important considerations

DeAMPify doesn’t work if you click on an AMP link inside of Chrome

Since a link clicked in Chrome does not kick off the Android intent process, you cannot redirect it to DeAMPify and this the app cannot perform its magic. The app works in any non-Chrome app (messenger, hangouts, the Google Search app, etc).

How does DeAMPify work?

When you click on an AMP enabled page, the app searches the HTML code for the original web page URL and then passes this to the browser. So in effect, it is pre-downloading the entire web page anyway.

Conclusion

So is this useful and do I recommend it? No! I tried to find a reason to like this app but I couldn't. I don't have a technical or moral issue with AMP so there is no reason for me to go out of my way to bypass it. 

Additionally, it is pre-downloading the web page to find the non-AMP URL so I am not saving bandwidth and may actually be slowing down my browsing experience. 

I'm glad the app exists in case someone does want it but it's going to be useless for most Android owners. The only reason someone would probably consider this is if they have a moral issue with Google playing manager of the AMP technology and wants to "stick it" to the man.  To me it feels like stabbing yourself to teach someone else a lesson. 

7 airport lounge access secret you need to know

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

1 - Buy day-passes online

Most airlines will allow passengers to buy a lounge access day-pass online.

Toronto Air Canada Airport Lounge

Toronto Air Canada Airport Lounge

As an example, you can buy a day-pass from Air Canada for access to their own lounge for $25 if you are travelling on a Latitude fare. 

United Airlines offers airport lounge access day-pass for $50 here.

2 - Buy day-passes at the airport

Check directly with your airline. If if your airline doesn't own its own named lounge at the airport, they often have deals with private lounges offering them at competitive prices. As an example, Canadian airline Westjet has partnered with private lounge operators in the various regions it travels (Canada, Europe, Caribbean) to. Westjet offers airport lounge access at very competitive prices.

3 hour access to the Plaza Premium lounge costs $40 - 20% (Westjet discount) = $32. 

3 hour access to the Plaza Premium lounge costs $40 - 20% (Westjet discount) = $32. 

Some vacation package wholesalers also offer (add-on) lounge access to their customers. As an example, Signature vacations (in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton & Winnipeg) sells lounge access to all vacation pass holders. 

3 - Buy access to an independent airport lounge

Some airlines do not offer any type of (direct or indirect) lounge access. Other times companies buy the cheapest ticket they can find which means you may fly 10 different airlines and therefore not gain priority privilege access on any one particular airline. These are the times you may need to buy access to one of the independent lounges. 

If you travel to different airports, you may want to join one of the independent airport lounge access networks like:

As an example, Priority Pass offers access to 1000 airport lounges worldwide. Priority Pass (sold in Canada) offers 3 levels of membership:

  1. Standard($99 a year). Every access will cost $27 for the member or guests.
  2. Standard Plus ($249 a year). Member receives 10 annual visits. Additional visits or guests cost $27 each.
  3. Prestige ($399 a year). Member receives unlimited lounge access and guests can buy access for $27. 

Some credit cards have standing agreements with these lounge access  wholesalers and allow you to buy access without having to pay an annual membership fee. As an example, Diners Club Canada offers members access to worldwide lounges at affordable prices.

Here is an example of their Canadian airport lounges you can buy access to. Access to a lounge in Toronto is about $US30.

4 - Get a credit card with lounge access

If you travel a lot, it may make sense to use a travel credit card that includes access to airport lounge (either free or a pay per use without requiring an annual membership to a lounge network).

Credit Walk (Canada) has published an interesting article comparing various credit card lounge access programs.

Sleeping in Airports (USA) also has an article about credit cards offering lounge access.

5 - Buy a refundable business class ticket

Some travel forums (e.g. maphappy, boarding area, view from the wing ) recommend that you buy a full price refundable business class ticket for travel the same day as your regular discounted ticket, use the lounge and then refund the ticket. 

I have never used this technique and you should make sure the ticket is still refundable if you use the lounge. I know airlines like United have started implementing lounge access software that will help curb this type of abuse but I know this still works on some airlines. 

6 - Buy lounge access from other passengers

You can sometimes buy lounge access from other travelers on classified type sites at discounted rates (eBay, Craigslist, etc). Make sure you check any restrictions that may apply.

Someone selling 4 Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge access on eBay.

Someone selling 4 Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge access on eBay.

7 - Use a Smartphone App for lounge access

There are travel smartphone apps like Loungebuddy (IOS & Android) . 

Loungebuddy offers on the spot lounge access purchased on your smartphone without requiring an annual subscription.

The 6 apps every traveller should download now

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
image by  fdecomite  used under Creative Commons License

image by fdecomite used under Creative Commons License

The smartphone has quickly become the most important device we own. It allows us to be productive at work. It allows us to stay in touch with family and friends. It helps keep us healthy and accountable. 

It has also become the travellers best friend. I can't imagine taking a trip without it and here are some of my favourite apps that make travelling better, more efficient and much more fun.

1 - Uber and Lyft

I know Uber and Lyft have created an uproar in dozens of cities around world. Taxi drivers are upset and are lobbying their governments to block them.... Try as you may, you cannot block progress so. I have used Uber's UberX in dozens of cities around the world and it has always been a fantastic experience. 

Sure UberX is cheaper in most cities compared to traditional licensed taxis (cabs) but it is also a much better experience. You can order a car without talking to anyone and are always able to get transportation even during the busiest travel times. I can spend 30-45 minutes in New York or Chicago trying to hail a cab but able can book an UberX within minutes. 

Even with surge pricing, the convenience of Uber makes it a must and therefore number 1 on my list.

2 - Waze

I avoid renting a car whenever possible and choose Uber (see number 1) but regardless of mode of transportation, Waze has found a permanent spot on my must have travel app list. 

Waze has sometimes shown me great shortcuts to beat traffic that I have asked my Uber driver to take (which saves you money).

3 - Rome2Rio

Rome2Rio is a very easy app that allows you to "searches any city, town, landmark, attraction or address across the globe with thousands of multi-modal routes to easily get you from A to B." It is a great way to find great ways to get from point A to point B. It even includes options with Uber, taxi, local public transits (including trains) and more.

4 - Google Translate

Google translate is the babel fish of our time. It breaks through language barriers allowing you to explore freely. In addition to the website, Google offers translate apps for IOS and Android (all free). At it's base, it allows you to translate between 52 languages offline (without an internet connection). It allows you to perform 2 way voice translation in 32 languages and camera translation of text in 29 languages.

This camera translation feature was incorporated when Google bought a company called WorldLens. This cool trick allows you to translate signs, menus and invoices. 

5 - XE Currency Converter

Knowing the conversion between currencies is the difference between getting a good deal or getting taken advantage of. I have been using the XE.com currency conversion on their website for years and the XE app makes everything that much easier (IOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry).

Be careful because you can rarely convert currencies at the listed rate (because most agents make their money by charging a high spread) but it still very useful to know if someone is trying to take advantage of you during currency conversion.

6 - AirHelp

So this isn't an app but it is so good and useful that I just had to add it. AirHelp is a service that helps passengers to secure reasonable compensation from airlines when you are delayed, your flight is cancelled or the flight is overbooked. Most passengers don't know their rights and wouldn't know where to start to seek compensation.  The service is free and starts when you allow them to scan your emails for flight information. They will tell you if you are entitled to a claim and they only get paid if you do (they charge 25% of the compensation amount). They can go back up to 3 years and I have friends that have managed to recover up to $1000. 

AirHelp is an international service so why not try it?