We’ve reported on a few occasions about Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) being available via Google Play for Chromebooks in the past. Seemingly out of nowhere, apps like Twitter began downloading and installing as a PWAs on Chrome OS right from the Play Store without warning, options, or a heads-up. For users unaware of this change, there would really be no reason to question the process or be concerned with the end result at all. For example, the Twitter web app is fantastic and carries with it all the necessary parts of the Twitter native app experience, so for Chromebook users, there’s little need to install an Android app when the web app is smaller, lighter, and just as useful. Additionally, these Play Store PWAs install and remove just like their Android APK counterparts, so there’s really no downside to the entire process.
Once we saw that more apps were getting added to this PWA-via-Play-Store model, it only followed that many other apps would do likewise. Right on the heels of Twitter’s PWA arrival in the Play Store, YouTube TV arrived and was swiftly followed by Google News and we really thought this process was going to become a very regular occurrence. Unfortunately, after those three apps appeared, none have come after them. While I can’t wait to see many, many more apps take this path, we now know why there aren’t more just yet. And it looks likely more will come along in the near future.
In a recent video from the Google Chrome Developers YouTube Channel entitled Giving your PWA superpowers, the main speaker PJ McLachlan talks through a handful of new features available to developers working with PWAs across the board and ends the video by discussing this recent trend of PWAs that can be installed via the Play Store for Chromebooks. In that segment, he points out something interesting that explains a little about how this whole process happened and why we haven’t seen more of it just yet.
From his explanation, this is an early-access program that is pretty high-touch with the Chrome OS team right now. Those developers that have taken advantage have done so only with a lot of help from the Chrome OS team, so that is why we haven’t seen a ton more of these types of applications at this point. These apps are leveraging Trusted Web Activities and PJ hints that if a PWA is built using this, it will be a simple transition to have it available in Google Play for Chromebook users when this entire program hits general availability in the second half of 2020. At that point, PJ says that all the work that the Chrome OS team has done on the current PWAs in the Chromebook Play Store will be able to be handled directly by the app developers themselves: no need for Google’s continued involvement.
As this all rolls out later this year, I can’t wait to see the number of apps that leverage this very-unique capability. It is clear that Chromebook sales are through the roof here in 2020, so the audience for PWAs delivered in the Play Store is significant at this point. I’d imagine there are quite a few developers eager to position their apps in this way and, as they do, more users will begin using web apps in place of their native app equivalent. In my opinion, that is a win all around. While native applications will always have their place, web apps deserve a considerably larger place in the overall app discussion, and moves like these from Google will only help to make that a reality.