Google is reportedly replacing some popular Android apps on the Chromebook variant of the Google Play Store with progressive web apps (PWAs). That's going to bring a number of features for end-users and most of those will only serve to make the entire experience better. But users won't need to do anything on their end to take advantage of that either.
Now, getting the PWA actually works exactly like downloading the Android app. That's because they're still downloadable from the Google Play Store. The change is happening automatically for end-users too. In effect. the store automatically detects what device is being used. If that's a Chromebook or some other Chrome OS gadget, the store will swap out the Android apps being downloaded for PWAs.
For now, sources indicate that only two apps are available for download from the Play Store as PWAs on Chromebooks. Those are YouTube TV and Twitter.
What is a PWA and why is this better than Chromebook Android apps?
The benefits of PWAs over apps are limited but more changes are in the works to make things even better. As of this writing, the biggest improvement they deliver is in terms of download sizes and consistency.
PWAs are, as the name implies, web-based experiences. They are, in effect, full web sites that are downloadable. The use of those stays consistent with the given website. The experience is driven by updates that are applied when an internet connection is available and users open the app. But users aren't downloading every resource associated with that experience as is the case with an Android app.
That means that download sizes are kept to a minimum and persistent data is system-managed. As a result, users on low-memory and low-storage devices such as Chromebooks don't need to fill up their storage with apps.
In the future, Google plans to take that all a step further. Namely, that's by allowing web apps to take advantage of local hardware. The search giant expects that integration to allow PWAs to be built that replicate full desktop applications. Instead of taking up a lot of space, those will rely on cloud storage for the most part. But they'll also be able to take full advantage of a computer's CPU and memory.
The changeover is starting small but won't necessarily stay that way
It isn't immediately clear whether this is impacting all Chromebooks. But regardless of which Chromebook is being used, the underlying change appears to be happening at the Play Store level rather than to Chrome OS. So it should be a server-side alteration and require no action from users. Instead, if that holds true, it will roll out to everybody over the next few days or weeks.
Not every Android app with a web presence is immediately affected either. As noted above, the switch from Chromebook Android apps to PWAs is happening right now with Twitter and YouTube TV. Potentially, plenty of other apps will eventually be included — from Telegram to Facebook — but that's not happening just yet.
Google hasn't provided any details about this but, given that one of the two apps is associated with the company, it won't likely remain that way for too long. App developers may or may not need to alter underlying code to enable the feature. Or Google might go so far as to automatically switch things over since PWAs and PWA downloads are now such a big part of the Chrome experience.