A new potential Chrome flag discovered by Chrome Story called ‘Desktop PWA Sub Apps’ may enable installed web applications to create additional shortcuts for related web apps. Sound confusing? Let me explain. Traditional software packages – like Windows applications, for example – are delivered to a user via an installer. These installers can give the user one piece of software, and often do, but others like Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, and so on give the opportunity to choose and install several applications in one fell swoop.
[dPWA] Add feature flag for Sub AppsChromium Repository
Add a feature flag for the “Sub Apps” feature which is being worked on in this CL crrev.com/c/2684855.
Current web apps act like a piece of software if we are to continue the imperfect analogy. You get access to one website via one icon. PWA sub apps could instead cause a PWA to act as an installer and be utilized for something like Google Workspace. If you turn the Workspace website into an icon, perhaps Google could automatically ‘install’ Docs, Sheets, Slides, Meet, Chat, Gmail, Calendar, and more to a user’s Chromebook or Desktop OS, if they’re not already there for some reason.
Another example could be if you visit Microsoft Office 365 Online – imagine turning the main website into an icon via the ‘Create a shortcut’ option and then receiving Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint web applications as a result! Such use cases could help big companies better onboard their users with a suite of web-based tools and without the friction that currently exists.
Please note that while multiple launch icons would be created for a web app, and to the user, these would seem to be several separate web apps, these are instead separate actions for one single application. The reason why this would appear to be installing several experiences is that companies like Microsoft and Google host all of their software as a service on a single server, and can launch them via different URLs, thus treating them as ‘actions’.
In some circumstances it may be required for a single PWA to create multiple launch icons with distinct names. This allows a single software package to represent different functionality to the user but still be a single PWA install.Github
Once fully implemented, FUGU’s declarative link capturing would allow links to open in specific windows, new or existing. This means that developers could launch any sub app created or installed by a web app, thus controlling the experience for a user and making the web feel much more like a traditional desktop experience with installed programs.
While this feature-in-development sounds promising and very useful, I must bring to your recollection that Google is currently porting lots of web applications to the Play Store where users can discover and install them in one click. If you search for Office 365, for example, you’ll be able to install Word, Excel, and Powerpoint just by clicking ‘Install’ on the newly unified Office app.
Though as convenient as the aforementioned example of doing the same for its web apps via this new PWA sub apps feature, Microsoft clearly has no public plans to replace its Android apps with its inferior web experience. I envision a future where PWAs are all that exist in the Play Store (yes, even for games), but that day is far, far into the future, and there seems to be room for both PWAs in the play Store and sub apps to co-exist for the time being.