Mobility

Apple could lose billions on Progressive Web Apps, but it has no choice

There are many reasons for Apple to say no to Progressive Web Apps, but the company won't allow Android to offer a better user experience on the mobile web.

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Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

One of the lessons coming from Google's Chrome Dev Summit is that the web is back on the menu for Google. Though the web giant allowed Apple to set the tempo in HTML5, Google is now pushing the mobile web forward in at least two big ways. First, Google is now prioritizing its mobile search index. Second, Google has gotten religion on the adoption of Progressive Web Apps (PWA).

It's perhaps not surprising that Google would double-down on the mobile web. The more time people spend on the web, the more ads they click. That's always been its "secret" plan behind Android. But, what about Apple? While Google can influence the fate of billions of mobile users as the market share leader, Apple's voice on PWA matters, and to date it's only willing to say they're "under consideration."

Not to worry, though. There is ample reason to believe that Apple will get behind PWA as much, or potentially more, than Google.

Billions of reasons to say no

While some have called a ceiling on the importance of apps (" Have we reached peak app?"), Apple continues to ride the app gravy train to the tune of billions of dollars each year. It's therefore easy to answer Elastic Path co-founder Jason Billingsley's question ("What is the motivation at Apple to support PWA in Safari?") with a stout "None."

And yet, that would be the wrong response. After all, Apple has always cared far more about user experience than shielding a few billion dollars from possible cannibalization.

For example, it was Apple, not Google, that worked hardest to improve HTML5 performance on its devices, despite those same billions of app dollars at stake. Eventually, Google followed Apple's lead on iOS, replacing UIWebView with WKWebView, but it was Apple that first made the change.

Also, Apple doesn't have a choice. Not really.

Can't stop PWA if you tried

It's already true, as Jason Grigsby pointed out, that "Just because iOS doesn't support every aspect of Progressive Web Apps, doesn't mean that Progressive Web Apps won't work on iOS." They do, at least in significant part.

As Grigsby continued, "Early evidence indicates that Progressive Web Apps perform better on iOS than the sites they replace." So, even if a company replaces their stock responsive website with a PWA-oriented site for its Android users, iOS users are going to benefit, too.

But Apple is never content with winning by accident. It's just a matter of time before the company gets behind PWA in a big way, just as it did with HTML5. There's zero chance that Apple is going to allow Android to offer a better user experience than iOS. Zero.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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