In December 2017, Google removed the ability to search for Chrome Web Apps from the Chrome Web Store on anything other than a Chrome OS device. You can search the G Suite Marketplace and Google Play store, respectively, for web apps or Android apps to replace Chrome Web Apps. Or you might search the Chrome Web Store for extensions that replace Web Apps, as well.
Chrome extensions and themes remain available for Windows and macOS users of Chrome, but Chrome Web Apps can no longer be found from those devices. For example, https://remotedesktop.google.com offers an alternative to the Chrome Remote Desktop app, downloadable apps replace the Signal Chrome Web App, and native system drivers server replace the HP Print for Chrome app on Windows and macOS devices.
Google promotes Progressive Web Apps not only as the alternative to Chrome-specific apps, but also as the next generation of web apps. The term describes a set of features that results in a web-app that may be installed on a home screen much like a native app, allow offline use, support push notifications, and work with multiple browsers—Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari—on mobile and desktop devices. (For a more comprehensive list of PWA features, see Google's Progressive Web App checklist.)
Essentially, when you install a PWA, you'll see an icon on your screen that looks just like every other installed app, but actually opens the PWA. The idea is that the added features of Progressive Web Apps take web apps beyond the boundaries of a single desktop browser platform.
One of the most prominent examples of a PWA is Twitter Lite. Launched in April 2017, it provides a fast, app-like experience that saves data, and supports push notifications and offline access when accessed from any browser that supports Progressive Web Apps. To be clear, offline access means you can continue to browse cached tweets from your main stream or lists that you've accessed: You'll see a "Sorry, Twitter is taking too long to load" message with a "Try again" button when you reach the end of the cached data. Progressive Web Apps rely on service workers, which are scripts that run in the background that can accept and cache network requests, as well as receive push notifications.
Discovering Progressive Web Apps can be a bit of a challenge though. One way to discover a PWA is to visit a site that works as a PWA. You may see a notification that you can add the app to your Home screen. Then with two taps — one on the add app icon, and another on the "+Add to Home Screen" message — you'll have installed it.
However, there's no singular, central database of Progressive Web Apps. When I looked in early January 2018, the best searchable site for PWAs I found was Outweb.io, which, of course, can be installed to your home screen as a PWA. A different site, PWA.rocks, also showcases a much smaller number of PWAs and lacks search. Cloud Four highlights Progressive Web App success stats at PWA Stats.
Progressive Web Apps solve a few significant problems. You can install a PWA without signing in to an app store. A PWA app login can be handled like any standard web sign-in process. Caching and service workers helps people work when a network isn't consistently available. I expect the number of PWAs to increase as Edge and Safari join Chrome, Firefox, and Opera in support of PWA.
Has your organization already adopted PWAs? If you're selecting software or planning a web app are the features of Progressive Web Apps part of your requirements? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).
- How Progressive Web Apps promise to upend native mobile apps (TechRepublic)
- Why it's time for businesses to get serious about Progressive Web Apps (TechRepublic)
- Google removes Chrome Apps from Web Store, moves to PWAs (ZDNet)
- Microsoft's latest Windows Store strategy involves a rebrand plus Progressive Web Apps (ZDNet)
- Apple could lose billions on Progressive Web Apps, but it has no choice (TechRepublic)
- How to use Progressive Web Apps on Android (TechRepublic)
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.