This is What Google Said About PWAs at I/O 2018

This is What Google Said About PWAs at I/O 2018

As you might expect, this year’s Google I/O provided a ton of new content about Progressive Web Apps. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

As I explained in This is What Google Said About Progressive Web Apps at I/O a year ago, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are the future of web apps. They overcome the inherent limitations of the web—performance, quality, and poor/unavailable Internet connections—and provide “native-ish” experiences on mobile and the PC. PWAs are so powerful that they can and will often replace truly native apps, and because they can run on any modern platform, they present an interesting solution for both developers and users alike.

Since last year’s I/O, support for the PWA platform has expanded dramatically. I’ve written a lot about Microsoft’s work to integrate PWA into Windows 10, most obviously in Microsoft’s Bold Plan to Bring PWAs to Windows 10, and that support just shipped in version 1803.

Part of that support includes offering PWAs through the native app store in Windows 10, a first. And that use case is so compelling that Google intends to do so as well, with Android’s Google Play Store.

But it’s not just Microsoft. PWAs work in “6 out of 6.5 browsers,” as Google put it this week, meaning Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera, Samsung Internet, and sort of on IE 11. You’d have to try pretty hard to use an OS platform or browser that doesn’t support PWA and its constituent technologies in some meaningful way. And that means that as PWA capabilities become more sophisticated that this platform has emerged as the go-to solution for developers that are creating multiple client apps across Android, iOS, and the web. Or wish to do so with new apps.

Google is talking up PWAs at I/O this week alot. And while I’m sure I’m missing a few resources, here are the sessions and other I/O videos I’ve watched and can recommend to the PWA-curious.

A lot of the information in those videos is developer-centric, as you should expect. So here are a few key takeaways for users, focusing only on what’s new this year:

Google is moving its apps to PWAs. This one is huge: Google finally commented publicly on its own shift to PWA technologies, starting with Google Search, its core service. “Google Search is now backed by Service Worker [the key PWA technology,” Google’s Malte Ubl said during The web: state of the union talk. As a result, it now loads 50 percent less external JavaScript code while running 6 percent faster. For a service the scale of Google Search, “that is a huge win.” Google is also using PWA for other existing services like the new Gmail, new services like Bulletin, and new versions of existing services like Google Maps Go. It’s happening.

PWAs can use native features. In all the talk about PWAs being “nativish,” I think many lose sight of what that means. Which is this: PWAs can use actual native OS features. These include, among others, geolocation, camera APIs, and much more. And there are new native PWA features coming on board all the time: Google talked up new media features at IO, including Picture-In-Picture (PIP) support. Google has also created a new open video format called AV1 that provides 30 percent better compression than VP9 and is optimized for PWAs.

It’s not just for mobile. In addition to Windows 10, PWAs are supported natively in Chrome OS and Chrome (the web browser), and both are picking up additional features related to PWAs. These include an “add to desktop” function that is more sophisticated/nativish for PWAs. Even Chrome for Mac will get this functionality later in 2018. (It currently lacks any “add to desktop” functionality.) Many PWAs are now supporting desktop use with native features, including Spotify, Gmail, and even AutoCAD.

New PWAs. Google talked up a number of new PWAs, and while I’m sure I’m missing some, a few I noted include Pinterest, Ofo, 1-800-Flowers, Starbucks, Vimeo, Voot Lite, Globo Play (Brazil), and Editora Globo (Brazil).

More is on the way. In the near future, PWAs will be supported natively on the Mac and Linux via Chrome. They will support app-specific keyboard shortcuts that can adapt to the underlying platform. They will support notification badges on the app’s icon (say, in the Windows 10 taskbar), and will be able to capture app links. (Meaning that when the user clicks on something anywhere that requires a specific app, that app can be a PWA instead of a native app.)


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  • Daekar

    10 May, 2018 - 3:57 pm

    <p>If Microsoft isn't already working on transitioning the Office web clients to this, they need to start panicking. Yesterday. Because if their goal is to be where their customers, are, THIS is the best way to do it, and if they don't Google will. I love the current Office 365 web experience, but performance holds it back and that's something this could address. Make it happen, Microsoft… this is your bread-and-butter product line we're talking about here. Do it right and you can drop your Android and iOS apps.</p>

    • Bart

      Premium Member
      10 May, 2018 - 6:34 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274317"><em>In reply to Daekar:</em></a></blockquote><p>Ten times this. And I think a lot of consumers, including myself, will be more happy to run these apps, than the full featured Office suite.</p>

  • Dan1986ist

    Premium Member
    10 May, 2018 - 4:00 pm

    <p>Most of what Google does anyway is web-based, so PWAs that work with all Operating systems make sense. Plus, they only have to support a single codebase for those PWAs, right?</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      10 May, 2018 - 4:24 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274320"><em>In reply to Dan1986ist:</em></a></blockquote><p>Right.</p>

  • Demileto

    10 May, 2018 - 4:11 pm

    <p>"Google is moving its apps to PWAs. This one is huge: Google finally commented publicly on its own shift to PWA technologies, starting with Google Search, its core service. “Google Search is now backed by Service Worker [the key PWA technology,” Google’s Malte Ubl said during The web: state of the union talk. As a result, it now loads 50 percent less external JavaScript code while running 6 percent faster. For a service the scale of Google Search, “that is a huge win.” Google is also using PWA for other existing services like the new Gmail, new services like Bulletin, and new versions of existing services like Google Maps Go. It’s happening."</p><p><br></p><p>That's all fine and dandy, but what I'd like to know is, will they add their rewritten-as-PWA services to the Microsoft Store or make life as a hard as possible to Windows users as usual by forcing them to navigate to each one to manually add them? Knowing Google they'll probably add the flag Microsoft mentioned in their PWA build session that forbids Bing to automatically add a PWA to the Store to each and every one of them.</p>

    • Daekar

      10 May, 2018 - 4:16 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274323"><em>In reply to Demileto:</em></a></blockquote><p>In this case, I don't see any reason why they would withhold their PWAs from the Store. In the case of Chrome, they refused because they don't want to use the Edge underpinnings as required by Microsoft, but that doesn't really apply here.</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      10 May, 2018 - 4:24 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274323"><em>In reply to Demileto:</em></a></blockquote><p>Actually, Google could specifically prevent their apps from being put in the Store. So we'll see what happens.</p>

      • Demileto

        10 May, 2018 - 5:02 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#274337"><em>In reply to paul-thurrott:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Yeah, I acknowledged that in my post:</p><p><br></p><p>"Knowing Google they'll probably add the flag Microsoft mentioned in their PWA build session that forbids Bing to automatically add a PWA to the Store to each and every one of them."</p><p><br></p><p>Or did you reply to the wrong person?</p><p><br></p><p>But yeah, we'll see what happens.</p>

    • StevenLayton

      10 May, 2018 - 4:43 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274323"><em>In reply to Demileto:</em></a><em> Come, come. I'm sure Google would never do anything to try to screw over Microsoft, at the expense of consumers. </em></blockquote><p><br></p>

    • hrlngrv

      Premium Member
      10 May, 2018 - 4:53 pm

      <p><a href="#274323"><em>In reply to Demileto:</em></a></p><blockquote><em>. . . </em>navigate to each one to manually add them . . .</blockquote><p>If Google's approach works similar to Google Play or the Chrome web store, that means finding the page for a specific PWA and clicking a button to install. How is that materially different than using the MSFT Store? OK, other than needing to find Google's PWA store once and bookmarking it.</p><p>I could also see Google making a not unreasonable demand that if MSFT wants any Google PWAs in the MSFT Store, it has to accept <strong><em>all</em></strong> Google PWAs in the MSFT Store. IOW, no Maps without Search, Mail, Google Drive, etc.</p>

      • Demileto

        10 May, 2018 - 5:16 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#274357"><em>In reply to hrlngrv:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>"If Google's approach works similar to Google Play or the Chrome web store, that means finding the page for a specific PWA and clicking a button to install.&nbsp;"</p><p><br></p><p>My understanding is that currently on Android you have to know a website is a PWA or has a PWA version so you can use your browser – read: Chrome – to navigate to it and then pin it as an app to the system. That approach is so unintuitive – who knows exists, that it's a PWA or even actively choose to use it? – that, as Paul points out in the article, Google even plans to take a page from Microsoft and add PWAs around the web to Play Store. That's what I mean by asking if Google will be Windows consumer unfriendly as usual, denying the addition of its PWAs to the Microsoft Store.</p>

  • Rob.Federici

    10 May, 2018 - 4:13 pm

    <p>How to PWAs handle video streaming apps like HBO and Amazon? I use those 2 as an example because they obviously aren't available on Windows 10.</p><p><br></p><p>If Google can convince them to convert their apps to PWAs and then they release them on windows since it will be compatible I will be so happy!</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      10 May, 2018 - 4:24 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274324"><em>In reply to Rob.Federici:</em></a></blockquote><p>Yep. crosses fingers</p>

    • Chris_Kez

      Premium Member
      10 May, 2018 - 5:24 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274324"><em>In reply to Rob.Federici:</em></a></blockquote><p>Ditto for Showtime, which I've been using on the web because there is no Windows 10 app. </p>

  • hrlngrv

    Premium Member
    10 May, 2018 - 4:47 pm

    <p>I can appreciate some benefits from making, say, Google Maps a PWA, but I can also see downsides such as needing a considerable offline cache for offline map usage. Some web apps without access to online data seem pointless to me.</p>

  • Chris_Kez

    Premium Member
    10 May, 2018 - 5:20 pm

    <p>This all sounds so very promising for Windows 10, but I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop; for Google to leverage Chrome's dominance to take some kind of "embrace, extend, extinguish" approach whereby PWA's will work best on Chrome and leave Edge users behind. In the supposedly "open web" we already see sites "optimizing" for Chrome; and we have Google pushing their AMP pages. I just don't see Google sitting idly by and allowing PWA's to breathe life into Windows 10.</p>

    • Bart

      Premium Member
      10 May, 2018 - 6:32 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274381"><em>In reply to Chris_Kez:</em></a></blockquote><p>There is always the EU ;)</p>

  • Daekar

    10 May, 2018 - 5:45 pm

    <blockquote><a href="#274380"><em>In reply to martinp17:</em></a></blockquote><p>That was a fantastic article. Thank you for sharing it! </p>

  • JacobTheDev

    Premium Member
    10 May, 2018 - 5:51 pm

    <p>As a web developer PWA stuff is incredibly exciting. Love to see this keep progressing, and can't wait to add more features to the websites I build!</p>

  • Bart

    Premium Member
    10 May, 2018 - 6:38 pm

    <p>A lot of positive noise, but (sorry!!):</p><p><br></p><p>As mentioned below, devs still need to put the apps in the Microsoft Store.</p><p>Devs still need to target Windows 10 to make use of its native features like action center, Time Line etc</p><p><br></p><p>I am keeping all my fingers crossed PWA'S will be the solution for the Microsoft Store, but wouldn't hold my breath </p>

    • JCerna

      Premium Member
      10 May, 2018 - 7:21 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274407"><em>In reply to Bart:</em></a></blockquote><p>From reading the article Paul is not claiming PWAs will solve the Microsoft Store's problems. I was at build and saw the incredible power PWA can have. Google is the main reason I think it will take off. Would the PWAs make it to the store? I wish and hope they do. But in the big picture it does not matter. Even Microsoft on build suggested the avility to install PWAs from edge browser. If they don't chrome browser will and does to a point. If developers write the windows 10 integrations, great. If they allow it on the store, great. Either way PWAs are here to stay. </p>

  • Stooks

    10 May, 2018 - 6:56 pm

    <p>I am taking a wait and see approach.</p><p><br></p><p>Native Apps &gt; PWA's &gt; Browser Apps &gt; No app at all.</p><p><br></p><p>Google of course wants PWA's to be a hit, since even their native apps are glorified web wrapped apps. Microsoft just want apps for their store so hey PWA's are better than nothing.</p><p><br></p><p>I would take a native app over a PWA any day of the week, if the native app was not garbage. Perfect example AutoCAD on Windows (Win32/64) or PWA???</p>

  • curtisspendlove

    10 May, 2018 - 8:17 pm

    <p>PWAs are the next best solution. </p><p><br></p><p>I guarantee you Microsoft wouldn’t be pushing them as heavily if they had any feasible native app path with traction. </p><p><br></p><p>And I’m willing to bet Google wants to move this direction to downplay native apps so they can trim Java out of Android, and therefore get rid of all the lawsuits. Or at least kill off Android, since it is unlikely they gain much traction pulling Java out. (Notice the distinct lack of mention of Linux or Java in *any* of the Fuchsia leaks).&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>However, since this is where we are, it is the best likely option. I hope it turns out as well as some expect it to. </p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • PeteB

    10 May, 2018 - 8:20 pm

    <p>PWAs aren't the savior of Windows 10. Google does not give a F about Windows 10. No third party is ever the savior of an absentee firstparty – MS has to do their own heavy lifting and innovation or it continues to stink in a shallow grave.</p><p><br></p><p>Rambling Nadella seems to have moved on from caring about Windows anyway (RIP Myerson) so all this "what if" dreaming of something saving the failed w10 store is just that – fantasy.</p>

    • Tony Barrett

      11 May, 2018 - 6:33 am

      <blockquote><a href="#274429"><em>In reply to PeteB:</em></a></blockquote><p>Agreed. MS will make sure PWA's work in Windows 10, but I have concerns they'll tweak things just enough to make sure that some don't work on other platforms as well, or at all. Gotta look after number 1 right! </p><p>Still, Google especially will be the big winner with PWA's. Chrome on Windows, Mac and Linux, ChromeOS, Android. They could, and probably will, clean up, and the devs will all follow where the action is.</p>

    • Brandon Mills

      11 May, 2018 - 12:36 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274429"><em>In reply to PeteB:</em></a></blockquote><p>I think Windows 10 will die a slow death because they can't implement the Windows 8 strategy that Apple is successfully implementing. iOS 11 works just like Windows 8 on a tablet. iPad Pro does want a I wanted out of Surface. The big difference being they have the app ecosystem Microsoft never had. Google is still AWOL in the tablet market for the most part. </p><p><br></p><p>Google's biggest problem is they keep expecting third parties to do most of the work, when what the US needs is more Google stores, more Pixels, and more of a first-party Google presence. This is a big reason I think Amazon Alexa is a better choice for most than Google Home. Google seems to refuse to materialize in your life, but Amazon will show up at your door. It doesn't matter how much smarter Google Home is at that point. Google needs to do something big. Maybe buy Wal-Mart? They have to prove that they too can materialize, in a first-party way, in the real world. Stop the third party bull already.</p><p><br></p><p>Back to PWAs, I'm fully supportive, but this isn't a magic cure-all for Windows 10. Microsoft still faces the very real consequences of missing out on mobile, and possibly missing out on the home voice assistant market as well.</p>

      • Jorge Garcia

        11 May, 2018 - 8:01 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#274573"><em>In reply to BrandonMills:</em></a></blockquote><p>I agree with a whole lot of what you said (and said much better than I could have). It is fine for Google to keep developing Chromebooks, but I think that while Project Fuchsia is being developed, they need to give more relevance to Android (change name to Google OS) outside of smartphones. Google could easily make a tablet/laptop thing that ran Android and would satisfy such huge a swath of people who are currently turned off by Chromebooks' fussiness. I'd even argue that with a few tweaks, they could offer (in the settings) different flavors (modes) of Android for Tablets…one mode that works touch-first, and one mode that includes some traditional desktop aspects like windowing and mouse support, much like Samsung's DeX walks the line between mobile OS and desktop OS. This is what MS did with Windows, but unfortunately they were forced by their legacy position to do things the wrong way around. You can currently make Windows 10 behave like a remarkably decent tablet, but there's no point in ever activating that mode, really, since there are not enough tablet apps worth using. It would be 1000% better (from the perspective of the simple people who make up the majority of consumers) to have a mobile OS that can double as a decent desktop experience. No one except Samsung has done this credibly yet. Apple is closing in, but still not there.</p>

  • rameshthanikodi

    10 May, 2018 - 8:28 pm

    <p>another thing that was said was that Starbucks saw 2x more orders and app engagement with their PWA than their website.</p>

    • curtisspendlove

      10 May, 2018 - 9:46 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#274431"><em>In reply to FalseAgent:</em></a></blockquote><p>I expect that a well-written web page that were saved as an icon to the phone’s “home” would do just as well. (It looks like an app and is “in your face”.)</p><p><br></p><p>Though this is where PWAs actually *can* be better than a standard website (if the APIs get built out to support it). </p><p><br></p><p>I haven’t looked at the new stuff yet, but if they build out a payment API, PWAs could get access to checkout faster than a typical web app (since they could be semi-privileged). </p><p><br></p><p>This is the the problem with PWAs though. The APIs have to exist and be supported by your platform in order to gain enhanced functionality. </p><p><br></p><p>I’d be curious to know the stats for their native apps vs website vs PWA. </p><p><br></p><p>Edit: heh, shucks. So the Payments API is right there in the feature grid. I’m curious about the details. If that lets you like with Google Pay and Apple Pay, etc, that is a huge advantage for commerce apps. </p><p><br></p><p>Edit, edit: after minimal digging it *could* support those types of things depending on the platform. There are some nit picky details I don’t like (including the “site”/app being passed credit card and CVC details) but that stuff can be worked out to be more secure. </p>

  • madthinus

    Premium Member
    11 May, 2018 - 3:05 am

    <p>PWA works because it is great for platforms and users. I wish we could have more tech like this. </p>

  • plettza

    11 May, 2018 - 5:28 am

    <blockquote><a href="#274380"><em>In reply to martinp17:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Developers shun Windows despite being relatively painless and cheap to get their app there but will gladly tap dance to Apple's tune without a thought. A bit like a case of Stockholm Syndrome </p>

  • cchubbuck

    11 May, 2018 - 10:17 am

    <p>I was assuming the followup article to this is going to be:</p><p><br></p><p><em>"This is what Microsoft said about PWAs at Build 2018"</em>, and it would literally be a blank article with a tumbleweed as a graphic.</p><p><br></p><p>Kidding…but clear and concise messaging has never been Microsoft's strong suit.</p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • Jeff Jones

    11 May, 2018 - 12:07 pm

    <p>Does this mean we'll see Gmail and Google Maps in the Microsoft Store?</p>


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