“Web apps are the exact opposite of native mobile apps. They are not meant to run on any specific platform. They are meant to run on a browser. They are not apps as such. They are, basically, websites. Websites that have been made to look and feel like (native) apps. When a user accesses such a website/”app”, they are given an option of pinning/”installing” them on their device’s home screen. Google has a name for these “apps”: Progressive Web Apps.”
That’s a very simplistic way of looking at them but that’s exactly what I thought would be the best way to explain to people who probably don’t obsess over the same things as I do about what all those shortcuts they were being prompted to have on their home screens were all about.
Which is why anyone reading this should be excited that, going forward, they might be able to easily access more of such “apps” directly from the Google Play Store. Just like they have been able to do with native apps.
A few things have happened that have made this possible. Last week, version 72 of Chrome, the popular browser from Google, became available. While many focused on news features in Chrome 72 that made it to its desktop apps (Mac, Linux and Chrome OS), there were many things happening on the Android app front as well. Who else found it rather suspicious that Google deliberately omitted a changelog on the Play Store?
Included with Chrome 72 is Trusted Web Activity (more about that), an activity feature that was announced back in October 2017 at the Chrome Dev Summit that lets users open Chrome standalone as an app (without that browser bar and all), eliminating the need to install the native app itself (where available) or the need for an app entirely where none is available.
According to Google, for content to be displayed that way (using a TWA feature), it will require the same set of protocols that are applied in Progressive Web Apps that have a provision that allows users direct access when pinned on their home screens.
Google hasn’t announced the availability of PWAs for publishing in the Play Store by developers and the downloading and use from the same source by users but that should change once it gets its house in order. For now, the much that the company has done is acknowledge that this development is, indeed, true.