Yes, Google and Apple Support PWAs Too

Posted on February 20, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Dev, iOS, Mobile, Windows 10 with 28 Comments

Google Maps PWA running on Chrome OS (source: Kenneth Christiansen)

We know that Microsoft will be the first platform maker to formally support Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) in its mobile apps store. But the software giant isn’t alone in adopting this important new technology. Both Google and Apple will formally support PWAs in their own platforms too.

As you may know, Google already supports PWAs in a basic way in Android: If you navigate to a PWA—like Twitter Lite—using the Chrome web browser, a pop-up will appear, letting you add that app to your phone. This is a nicety, for sure, but discoverability is an issue. Google doesn’t (yet) offer a way to find PWAs in its app store, Google Play.

(You can also add PWAs to your Android phone using Firefox now.)

At the Chrome Dev Summit in October 2017, Google’s Owen Campbell-Moore announced how the search giant would allow PWAs to work with its desktop platform, Chrome OS. Put simply, PWAs will run on Chrome OS just as they do on Windows 10 (starting with version 1803) and Android, as native apps.

That’s a big deal because PWA was purely mobile-focused before Microsoft’s involvement. But Microsoft is also innovating on store integration: Users will be able to seamlessly find and install PWAs directly from the app store that is built right into the OS. I was told that Google would be adding similar store support at some point, and presumably to both Android and Chrome OS. (In fact, the Chrome OS app store is being phased out for the Google Play Store, so these things will become one and the same over time as well.) I am not aware of a schedule for that change.

YouTube PWA running on Windows 10 (source: Owen Campbell-Moore)

But according to developer Kenneth Christiansen, Google is continuing to add native capabilities to PWA, and these changes will help this platform bridge the gap between its web roots and the underlying OSes on which these apps run.

“Lots of companies (think Slack or VSCode) use Electron today in order to wrap their web apps into a native container, as well as expose additional native APIs,” he writes. “There is a big problem with that approach though, because people constantly find security bugs in browsers and most of these become public, shortly after the browser vendors have fixed them, but the Electron runtime people distribute is often old and updated infrequently — resulting in a big security risk for the users. Desktop PWA support would fix this, but only if developers have access to the APIs they need to build their experiences.”

One of the next native APIs that Google will add to PWA, according to Mr. Campbell-Moore, is support for contacts. Over time, I expect more and more native features to come to PWA, eliminating all but the most specialized of barriers. More to the point, I expect this to happen very quickly.

PWAs running on Chrome OS (source: Kenneth Christiansen)

So we know that PWA is improving rapidly, is coming to all of Google’s platforms and to Windows 10, and will support both desktop and mobile use cases, and app stores. But the big elephant in the room, of course, is Apple.

Yes, Apple is formally supporting PWAs too, and across both iOS and macOS, via Safari and its underlying technologies. I expect an announcement to this effect at WWDC this summer. But Mr. Christiansen points out that the firm has already announced it is actively working to add three of the four core features of PWAs—Service Workers, Caching, and Manifest support—to its platforms. And the fourth, Push, is under consideration. It’s happening.

Mr. Christiansen’s post has some interesting examples of PWAs, and how you can use them on Chrome OS today too. It’s worth reading, if only for further confirmation that 2018 is, indeed, the year of the Progressive Web App.

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