Just last week we came across the first in what we hope becomes a long line of progressive web applications (PWA) that can be installed directly from the Google Play Store on Chromebooks. This app happened to be Twitter and, if you’ve been using their pretty fantastic website/web app over the past year, you’ll appreciate how good it has become in its overall functionality. I noted in that article that I’d recently removed the Twitter Android app from my phone and replaced it with the web-based PWA instead and I’ve not looked back.
I’d urge you to read that last post about why this is significant if you haven’t already, but I’ll quickly point out why this matters. PWAs represent the open web moving forward in its ability to deliver fully-functioning applications that can be delivered anywhere by anyone and be used on any platform. PWAs don’t care if you are running iOS, Mac OS, Windows, Android or Chrome OS: they just need a modern browser framework to function in. In a nutshell, they represent the most flexible and versatile app platform available and up until now, users had to go through some small hoops to get them installed.
With the arrival of the Twitter PWA in the Play Store, that hurdle is completely gone. This new availability begged the question of whether or not there are more out there like it. After all, as cool as it is to see the Twitter app get delivered in this way, one app doesn’t exactly spell a revolution. I looked around and tried about 20 different apps that I thought have the potential to be delivered on Chrome OS as a PWA versus their Android APK counterpart, but I struck out on all fronts.
A few days after posting about the Twitter app, however, our tweet about it was retweeted by Dominick Ng – Tech Lead/Manager on Chrome OS Apps Platform, web apps/PWAs, security UX – and afterwards, I reached out to ask him about the existence of other apps like Twitter that automatically download and install the PWA instead of the Android app on Chromebooks.
Dominick was kind enough to respond and point me to one other app being treated in this way: YouTube TV. For those YouTube TV subscribers out there, you have likely become quite familiar with the web app version of the service you get by navigating tv.youtube.com when on a desktop. Since the app in the Play Store has always been listed as incompatible with your device, it’s really been your only option. I know I’ve had it saved as a shortcut on my Chromebook for months now because of this and frankly, the web version is so good I’ve not really cared about having the Android app on my Chromebook.
As it turns out, YouTube TV does the exact same thing as Twitter now in the Play Store. Search for it and you’ll find it on your Chromebook and instead of seeing the listing as incompatible, you’ll have the option to go ahead and install right from there. Doing so will not surprisingly net you an install of the PWA that you are likely already familiar with, but in a form that is very unique. It will have an icon in your app tray, it will have the same uninstall dialog as any other app you install from the Play Store, and it can also be removed from your system right from the Play Store as well. For all intents and purposes, this installs an app just like any other service from the Play Store: it’s just not an Android APK anymore.
I can’t begin to tell you how much of a fan of this I am. While I’m ready for the day when all apps are delivered via the open web using tech that any user can leverage, we’re clearly not quite there yet. Users feel a certain comfort in going to their app store to get their apps, and regardless of whether that is the best way for things to work, it is simply how things are right now. PWAs have been technically available in the Play Store for a while at this point, but this new effort at allowing a single app to have different version available based on the device is a great step in the right direction from Google. While many users would simply run and download the Twitter Android app on their Chromebook, what they might not know is the PWA is just as functional, runs better on a Chromebook, and takes up less resources. It’s a win all around that many users may never have leveraged on their own and I’m hopeful to see much more of this in the coming months.