Microsoft and Google team up to improve web apps on Android

There are many operating systems available today, from Windows to macOS to Linux to Android to iOS, a bit far too many for developers, especially lone ones, to support equally. There is also no shortage of frameworks and tools, like Qt or Google's Flutter, designed to make that a little less painful but the one platform for that truly permeates all of these is the Web. That is basically the appeal of the new generation of web apps, called Progressive Web Apps, and two of the world's larger software vendors are working together to make PWAs more like first-class citizens of the Google Play Store.

A lot of the most popular apps and services these days are web-based, designed so that they can cover as many bases as they can, sometimes even on mobile web browsers. That doesn't instantly make them PWAs, though, as those still have to integrate properly with the underlying OS-specific features. That's what Microsoft's PWABuilder and Google's Bubblewrap are designed to do and they are now joining forces to spread the good news of PWAs on mobile.

Google's Bubblewrap is basically a tool to create Google Play Store packages out of PWAs while Microsoft's PWABuilder does the same for most app stores. PWABuilder is now using Bubblerwrap under the hood, Microsoft says, and, in turn, it is giving back some integration features to PWAs on Android.

Specifically, PWAs packaged for Google Play Store will be able to support web shortcuts that let users jump directly to specific sections or parts of the web app. On Windows, these shortcuts appear as jump lists when you right-click on the icon in the taskbar. This same list will appear on Android when you hold and press on the app icon. Additionally, PWAs will be able to control the appearance of the status bar, like changing its color to match the app's theme, just like regular native Android apps.

Google and Microsoft are leaning hard on PWAs for their own reasons. Microsoft is trying to make up for the lack of apps on its Store by letting existing web apps publish there as PWAs. Google, on the other hand, benefits from PWAs by having a single app story that encompasses all its existing platforms and uses the platform that it knows best: the Web.