It’s time to blow up the walled garden that keeps you locked into the products Apple and Google allow into their app stores. A new generation of Progressive Web Applications (PWAs), now taking root on desktop computers, may soon make the jump to your smartphone, changing how you download apps — and where they come from — forever.
An update in recent preview versions of Google Chrome, which enjoys 63% of the browser market share worldwide, hints at the potential here. Users can now install apps from sites simply by clicking a button that materializes in the URL bar, giving near-instant access to powerful, web-based versions of services like Spotify — no more app stores or finicky download pages.
These install buttons are a magic peek at the future of app development. If you navigate to a PWA, such as Spotify’s web player, you’ll see a desktop-style experience and a new option to install the app, so long as you’re using a browser that supports the feature.
Once you’ve installed it, the app will open in its own independent window outside of the browser, create desktop shortcuts, and offer a full feature set — like the ability to use your computer’s media keys to skip tracks or pause music — as if it were a “real,” native app.
Upcoming improvements will allow these apps to do even more. Hidden options in Chrome allow PWAs to launch themselves whenever relevant links are accessed — Twitter’s PWA becomes almost as good as a desktop app with this option enabled, auto-redirecting tweet URLs to the right place.
PWAs might look like normal websites on the surface, but they’re backed by a new breed of technology that allows them to act much more like traditional apps, with off-line support, push notifications, keyboard shortcuts, and…