Progressive Web Apps are now welcome in the Google Play Store, thanks to the new Trusted Web Activity feature. This is fantastic news for those who already have a PWA developed (it’s a new and potent channel of distribution), and for those who were hesitant about PWAs because of their previously limited distribution options. Let’s take a look at what this means for business, what the main advantages of this new development are, and how TWA works.
Progressive Web Apps are, as the name suggests, web applications. What makes them special is that they use service workers to achieve a native-like mobile experience and functionality. They can be used offline to some extent, are great for users with weaker devices or a slower internet connection, and they are pleasant to use thanks to custom splash screens, main screen icons and push notifications. PWAs boost re-engagement and conversion rates, the latter partially due to the fact that they don’t need to be downloaded and installed. The user chooses whether they’d like a new icon on their screen and notifications in their future, and that’s it.
As PWAs can be developed easily if you’re already working on a web app, they are often a more efficient solution than a separate mobile app. Up till recently, however, they had a drawback: they weren’t featured on the Google Play Store. But now they are, and the impact this will have could be amazing.
Progressive Web Apps in the Play Store
The change comes with the shipping of Chrome 72 for Android. It’s a version that includes Trusted Web Activity (TWA). Thanks to that, PWAs now pass the requirements for Play Store distribution. This is a more profound change than you may think, with a number of business advantages.
First of all, users often look for apps in the store, and may be confused when they don’t find them. This meant one less option for monetizing PWAs. Reaching new customers came with obvious limitations. The importance of delivering a fantastic Android experience becomes apparent when one looks at market share. Compared to iOS, Android has around 40% of mobile users in the UK, the US and Australia, over 50% in Sweden, and over 60% in Spain, Poland, South Africa, Italy, India, Germany, Brazil, and a number of other countries. This means that Google Play Store presence can be a tremendous opportunity worldwide, and a main channel of distribution on some markets.
Discoverability in the Play Store is also higher than through organic search engine traffic for mobile users. The store offers recommendations, divides apps into helpful categories and provides a ratings and reviews system, which helps users quickly assess the quality of experience an app may provide. These ratings and reviews are also a great source of feedback, a channel of communication with users, and a way to get ahead of the competition.
Some businesses with a presence in the store would love nothing more than to move on to PWA and abandon their native app, but were afraid to do so, expecting a smaller influx of new users as a consequence. And there are many reasons a company may wish to abandon a native app, from old, unsupportable code to the simple matter of expenses. As for those who don’t wish for their PWA to appear in the Google Play Store - fear not, it’s an opt-in affair.
Benefits of the Play Store installation
PWAs have a few new tricks up their sleeve with this new distribution option. One is the option to add a home screen widget, and another are app shortcuts, which is an example of a deeper integration with the Android operating system. PWAs can now be re-installed after a hard reset of your phone or when you get a new device. Background services should have better communication with native features, and some native screens could be added to PWA content.
There’s also the matter of better internationalization support, the option to distribute more than one icon on the home screen (leading to different URLs), and the option to build Wear OS companion apps or Android Auto extensions. And this is probably not all - we can see a lot of potential in this new development.
How does Trusted Web Activity affect PWAs
Trusted Web Activity is a new opportunity for integrating a web app with an Android app, thanks to a protocol based on Custom Tabs. As the name suggests, the content is trusted - the app and the site should come from the same publisher. It’s rendered in the user’s browser, and the apps can coordinate between each other as data flows to and from the page in URLs. This transition happens for activities (or screens), with each provided in its entirety either from the web app or an Android activity.
Basically, TWA adds a way to open Chrome in standalone mode (which means it won’t have any toolbar or other elements of Chrome UI), as part of the native Android environment. Publication itself is a bit complicated and involves some manual work, as the solution involves a Java API communicating with Chrome through services. It’s likely to get better in the near future, potentially through the community’s efforts.
Some cool features include resources being downloaded and updated on the fly by service workers. PWAs are still rendered in the browser, which means they keep browser storage, cache and sessions. If a user of an app that’s been made available on the Play Store had a session on your website when they installed the app the new way, they will still be logged in. What they install in this case is a shortcut to Chrome.
If you already have a PWA, we don’t currently see any disadvantages to making it available through the Play Store. If you don’t, but were thinking about switching over from a native app, it might be wise not to rush into it, as publication is still a little tricky. But if it’s something your business needs, go ahead - ultimately it’ll only be a little extra work. We’re sure this new development will give PWAs as a trend a big boost, and potentially change the way businesses interact with mobile users. We can’t wait to see how this new feature develops further.
If you want to switch from a native Android app to a PWA, or if you need a new PWA developed for your business, don’t hesitate. It’s a great time to get started.
Let’s talk about what approach will be best for your company.