Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are, in effect, web applications that can be downloaded and installed from Google Chrome and run like native apps. But learning how to download or install a PWA in Chrome isn't necessarily the most intuitive process. Even if it is easy once learned.
Now, PWAs come with a whole lot of benefits. Most of those will be for developers but that has a knock-on effect for users. Not least of all, it gives users ready offline access to information and web-built tools. Those function like native apps and do so across any platform Chrome can be installed on.
For instance, Google has shown how a PWA can replace a basic image compressor and editor with its web-based Squoosh app. The company built it as a PWA. So the tool can be used either online or off. And it functions just like downloaded software should. Users can just as easily access Squoosh on Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebooks, Android, or iOS.
Of course, it isn't just basic tools like a photo editor that can take the form of a PWA. Google has also demonstrated drawing tools as PWAs, websites, word editors, chat apps, and more.
The possibilities are, in effect, only limited by developers' imaginations. So the platform has grown significantly since its 2019 introduction. And it's going to get bigger thanks to a recent team-up between Google and Microsoft aimed at making creating them even easier. All of that makes learning how to install a PWA in Chrome more pressing than ever before.
To download a PWA in Google Chrome
The "how" when it comes time to download or install a PWA via Google Chrome really couldn't be a much easier process. In fact, it can easily be summarized in just a few steps. And that's because Google has stopped just short of tossing in a pop-up message to inform users that a site can be installed as a PWA.
It goes without saying that there may, at any given point, be some differences between how different operating systems install PWAs. Or whether or not they can be installed at all. On Android, for example, installing a PWA doesn't seem to follow the process below at all, at least for now.
This guide will use a Chromebook but the UI should stay the same across Windows, Mac, and Linux too — for the Chrome browser. It could potentially stay the same on iOS but we'll discuss Android just below the steps.
- Open Google Chrome.
- Using the URL Omnibox, navigate to the page you would like to download from Google Chrome as a PWA. For this example, we're using Google's image compression and light editing app 'Squoosh'
- Click or Tap on the URL Omnibox once the page loads.
- If the site is downloadable as a PWA, a new "install" icon will appear on the right-hand side of the Omnibox. Google shaped the install icon like a 'plus' symbol inside of a circle and typically just to the left of the star-shaped bookmark icon. To begin with, the word "Install" should also appear there briefly, before sliding back out of view.
- Tap or click the install icon.
- Click or Tap "Install" in the resulting pop-out to install the PWA.
- Once installed, the PWA will be presented in its own native-like window. Chrome places an appropriate icon alongside other installed applications and software. On Chromebooks, that's in the app launcher, as shown in the images below, while on Windows that should be within the start menu.
On Android devices, the current state of affairs seems to be that there's no native Chrome UI telling users how to install a PWA. Instead, web apps apparently need to include their own install button. For Squoosh, for instance, the purple-colored "Install" button shown in the above sample images also appears on Android. And tapping that, as with desktop Chrome, results in a pop-up.
The key difference is that the pop-up asks users to add the Squoosh PWA to their home screen. That's similar to how the Google app, when "weather" is searched, presents users with that option. Choosing to add the Squoosh PWA to the home screen won't cause it to appear in the app drawer on Android. It can be found on the home screen instead.
Keeping PWAs up-to-date
Now, after installing a PWA from Google Chrome, there's really no need to worry about keeping the app up-to-date. That's not because they don't need to be updated, of course. But, for the most part, PWAs will keep themselves up-to-date. In fact, they update in a few different ways but always when the installed device is connected to the internet.
Instead, it will periodically receive improvements via an update when the Chromebook it's installed on is connected. When that does happen, a pop-up appears, telling users there's a new version. Tapping the update button relaunches Squoosh, a lot like reloading a website.
Things are different when a website is installed as a PWA that does have a lot of user-facing details that need to update. For instance, a news site PWA will effectively update every time its opened, as long as a connection is available. And it'll do that in the background just like a native app for the service in question would. Google worked to ensure that no user interaction is needed. When connected, it simply pulls down the update while it's opening.
All of that means that, like a native app, unless there's a big change to functionality, users won't need to do much at all to keep things up-to-date.
Not every site or service is available as a Progressive Web App
One final note to be made on progressive web apps is that not every website or service is going to be available. At least not yet. As noted above, Google only just introduced PWAs in 2019. The goal, of course, was to get everybody involved and building the apps so that sites and services would work on any platform. In effect, it was to create a 'code once, release everywhere' platform. But not everybody has gotten on board with that. At least not yet.
Equally important, not every company that has built a PWA, such as Pandora, works with Chrome. The music streaming service does allow the use of Pandora as a PWA in the Chromium-based Microsoft Edge browser. That requires users to navigate to Pandora, tap or click the three-dot context menu, scroll down to apps, and then select an "Install" option. So not every instance of a web app is going to work the same either.
With all of that said, more PWAs are being added on a regular basis. So, where available, the process of installing them on Chrome should stay the same.