We spent a bit of time last week talking about the arrival of two apps in the Play Store for Chromebooks that have been there for a while, but are now in a new form: the PWA (progressive web app). On a Chromebook, if you head to the Play Store and attempt to download the Twitter or YouTube TV apps, you will successfully have the app at your disposal on your Chromebook, but it won’t be the Android version. Instead, the developers of those apps have chosen to flesh out their PWA versions of those apps and simply deliver them through the Play Store for Chromebook users.
As we talked about in those previous articles, this opens up PWAs to a much broader set of users whether they understand it or not. For most people, they’ll download, install, and use these PWAs and be none the wiser and the experience will be great regardless. As a matter of fact, I’d argue it will be better than trying to use the Android version of either app on your Chromebook. This is a direction I’m really hoping more and more developers choose to go for Chromebooks as the end product is a better overall user experience for everyone involved.
But wait, there’s more
This whole effort goes farther than what we thought in terms of delivering a PWA that feels completely native to the OS. As many of you are aware, there are plenty of PWAs out there that you can install when you head to the URL for the app and they work just fine. Still, the process feels less-than-native and apps misbehave in a few key ways. For example, go to photos.google.com and click the 3-dot menu in Chrome. Next, click “install Google Photos” and you’ll see the tab transform to a window and you’ll now have the Google Photos app in your app launcher. We’ve even found proof that we’ll soon have a unified uninstall dialog for all apps on Chromebooks, so when you want to remove it, it will uninstall just like any other app on your device.
All that is great, but there are some ways the current PWA experience just doesn’t line up with natively installed Android apps. For one, if you powerwash your device or move to a new Chromebook, your ‘installed’ PWAs won’t re-install themselves. Next, if you head to the Play Store and there is an Android app equivalent, you will be free to install that app right alongside the PWA, leading to further confusion. This isn’t how native Android apps behave, so why won’t PWAs play along?
Well, the PWAs you install from the Play Store do all this just like their Android counterparts. Google has even gone as far as redirecting standard PWA install requests to the Play Store. To see this in action, get Twitter fully uninstalled on your Chromebook and then head over to twitter.com. Up in the URL bar, there will be a prompt to install Twitter just like we saw with other PWAs, only if you click this prompt, you’ll be taken to the Play Store instead. Clicking install from there will still put the PWA on your device, but that’s what we’re expecting, right? Oh, you can also uninstall the app right from the Play Store just like its a normal, everyday Android application. Try that with a PWA installed just from the site’s URL.
This is staggeringly awesome! Not only is Google now able to deliver a PWA download and install via the Play Store, these apps have full, native citizenship right alongside their Android counterparts. In every way, shape and form, the Twitter and YouTube TV apps behave just as you’d expect if you didn’t know that you’d installed the PWA and not the Android app.
I was already impressed by this effort to begin with, but the fact that Google has managed to cleanly close this loop up completely makes me so, so excited by the prospect of many more PWAs in the Play Store in the future. I have no idea what it took to pull this off and I have no idea if every app developer is up to it, but I’m hopeful we see a flood of these type of apps start showing up in the Play Store. Off the top of my head, apps like Pinterest, Spotify, Google Photos, Google Keep, and many more could be leveraged in this way and give Chromebook users a far better experience in many cases than they would get by installing the Android app. We’ll be continuing to test more and more apps to see when the next on shows up with this ability, so stay tuned.