The tug of war between native apps and so-called web apps never really ended, but just took different forms. The latest version of this battle revolves around Progressive Web Apps that are supposed to look and behave like native apps on each platform. Sure, these PWAs are still mostly installed from your web pages, but Chrome for Android will be getting a new trick that will make it look like you’re installing a native Android app.
At the moment, the only indication you will receive that a particular website can be “installed” on your phone is a prompt at the bottom of the page to add it to the home screen. Alternatively, those who know about PWAs can also go to the Chrome menu to select the dedicated installation option there. Anyway, all users will get is a normal prompt to install a website, which may not make sense to most users.
This does not inspire much confidence in the web application and people are more likely to ignore the prompt. Google’s solution is to make this prompt look more like a Google Play Store app page, complete with a description, screenshots and a big Install button. Interestingly, there is no obvious way to cancel the prompt, but Android users are probably already familiar with tapping off the slider to cancel it.
However, this will not happen magically for all PWAs, and developers will need to do extra work to make their PWAs compatible with this new system. Google has strict requirements on what it needs, such as a description and specific sizes for screenshots. At the moment, it is just announcing Twitter as the first example of this richer PWA installation experience.
This is not yet available to everyone using Chrome on Android. Even with the next version of Chrome 90, users will still need to change a flag to see it. Google expects that when more PWAs arrive and adopt this scheme, confidence and, consequently, the adoption of these advanced web apps will be greater, even on mobile devices where native apps cost a dime a dozen.