The tug of war between native apps and the so-called web apps never really ended but just took on different forms. The latest version of that battle revolves around Progressive Web Apps that are supposed to look and behave like native apps on each platform. Of course, these PWAs are still mostly installed from their web pages but Chrome for Android will be gaining a new trick that will make it look like you’re installing a native Android app instead.
At the moment, the only indication you’ll get that a certain website can be “installed” on your phone is a prompt at the bottom of the page to add it to your home screen. Alternatively, those who do know about PWAs can also go into Chrome’s menu to select the dedicated Install option there. Either way, all that users will get is a normal prompt to install a website, which might not actually make sense to most users.
This doesn’t inspire much confidence in the web app and people are more likely to ignore the prompt. Google’s solution is to make that prompt look more like a Google Play Store app page, complete with a description, screenshots, and a big Install button. Amusingly, there is no obvious way to cancel the prompt but Android users will probably be now familiar with tapping outside the slide-up panel to cancel it.
This isn’t going to happen magically for all PWAs, though, and developers will need to put in the extra work to make their PWAs compatible with this new system. Google has hard requirements on what it needs, like a description and specific sizes for screenshots. At the moment, it’s only advertising Twitter as the first example of this richer PWA installation experience.
This isn’t available yet to everyone using Chrome on Android. Even with the upcoming Chrome version 90, users will still need to switch a flag to see it. Google hopes that when it does arrive and more PWAs adopt this scheme, trust and consequently adoption of these advanced web apps will be higher even on mobile devices where native apps are a dime a dozen.