I dumped my least used Android apps for web apps, and you should too

lyft pwa web app

Calvin Wankhede / Android Authority

Pretty much every business these days wants you to download their app, even if you probably don’t need to. Take Uber and Starbucks, for example. I hail a cab and visit a coffee shop once in a blue moon – do those apps have to be permanently on my device? I suspect I’m not alone in this either. Many of us have apps that we rarely use, but keep anyway — just in case.

But what if you don’t want to settle for single-use apps that eat up your phone’s precious resources? It turns out there’s a viable alternative that many of us have turned a blind eye to: progressive web apps.

Simply put, a progressive web app (PWA) is built using web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. This means you can access PWAs through most web browsers, including Google Chrome and Firefox.

However, unlike a traditional website, you can install a PWA. This removes the distracting address bar at the top. Many modern web apps also include a splash screen, offline functionality, and support for push notifications. For example, check out the following screenshots:

twitter android app screenshotNative Twitter Android Apptwitter web appTwitter PWA

If I didn’t label the images above, could you tell the native app apart from the PWA? Probably not unless you know what to look for. Modern web apps provide an experience arguably similar to most full-fledged Android apps, while taking up a fraction of your device’s resources.

Somewhat ironically, it’s come full circle — the original iPhone famously didn’t have an App Store because Apple believed developers would use Safari to “create Web 2.0 applications that look and behave like the applications built into the iPhone.”

Why use web apps instead of native?

uber pwa web app

Calvin Wankhede / Android Authority

You may be wondering why I am so averse to the idea of ​​installing native apps. Storage isn’t much of a concern for most of us anymore — the days of 16 and 32 GB smartphones are long gone.

However, storage is not the only finite resource on our smartphones. Many of us also deal with limited mobile data and mediocre battery life. And if you’re still using older hardware, it probably doesn’t have as much RAM or processing space left.

PWAs tackle all these problems in one fell swoop. Web apps usually target the lowest common denominator of hardware, making them extremely performant and lightweight. For example, Uber’s Android app took up over 250MB of my phone’s storage space. The PWA I replaced it with now only takes up 250 KB. Needless to say, that’s a huge difference.

In addition to taking up less storage space and background resources, web apps have fewer privileges compared to native apps.

Because web apps work within the confines of a browser, they have significantly fewer privileges than native apps. PWAs cannot access your device’s file system, contacts, or SMS. Access to hardware-level features, such as camera and microphone input, is also locked, which requires explicit permission.

Moreover, a web app cannot consume endless resources in the background or spam you with push notifications by default. The first is especially important for apps like Uber and Facebook, which were previously accused of collecting geolocation data in the background. And while Android 13 will introduce a push notification consent dialog, app developers won’t be forced to comply until next year.

Low-end computers and laptops benefit the most from PWAs. Many cheap Chromebooks still come with just 4 GB of RAM, more than half of which is reserved by the system. I’ve found that disabling the Android subsystem on such devices can dramatically improve responsiveness and overall user experience. Most of my frequently used apps — including Spotify, Telegram, and Slack — offer PWAs that use very little memory.

In fact, Google does this automatically too. Trying to install Zoom from the Chrome OS Play Store will download a lightweight PWA instead of the Android app.

PWAs: Google’s Instant Apps, But Better?

Wish instant app prompt

The idea of ​​getting app-like functionality on Android without a huge download upfront isn’t exactly new.

In 2016, Google introduced Instant Apps – a way to temporarily access parts of an Android app without actually installing it. The feature works very well even today, but you will rarely, if ever, use it. This is because Instant Apps can only be accessed through a web link or in the case of app demos, the Play Store. I haven’t come across any implementation that offers to add itself to your home screen or launcher.

Also, the vast majority of Android developers have never added Instant Apps functionality to their apps. In fact, many early adopters like the New York Times’ Crossword and The Weather Channel seem to have completely disabled the feature in recent updates, presumably due to its limited usability and declining user adoption.

Google’s Instant Apps experiment hasn’t seen widespread adoption or improvements in years.

In contrast, PWAs are significantly more capable, intuitive to use, and widely available. They are also cross-platform, meaning developers have a lot more motivation to support them in the long run.

With the exception of a few non-compatible web browsers, PWAs provide the same user experience whether you’re using Windows, iOS, or Android. Historically, that level of consistency has been hard to achieve — just look to failed mobile operating systems like BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone for proof.

Find and install web apps on your device

install twitter web app from chrome

Calvin Wankhede / Android Authority

While PWA adoption has accelerated in recent years, findability remains one of the biggest issues. There’s no centralized app store for the web (although Appscope is trying to get close), so you won’t know a particular website is a PWA until you’ve visited it at least once. However, if you come across one, simply accept the prompt to add it to your home screen or tap Install App from Chrome’s overflow menu (pictured above).

Keep in mind that PWAs are sometimes given less priority and attention compared to their native counterparts. For example, Twitter’s web app still won’t let you access Spaces — the platform’s new audio chat feature. (Editor’s note: This could actually count as a bonus.) Instagram’s app also has similar benefits. That said, if you just need the core functionality of these platforms, you’ll be more than happy with their respective PWAs.

However, make no mistake. PWAs can be incredibly powerful if the developers are motivated enough. Take PhotoPea for example. It is an advanced image editor that offers similar functionality to Gimp and Photoshop, while running completely in your browser. You can also launch and use it without an internet connection — useful if you’re a fellow Chromebook user.

Installing a PWA only takes a few taps and a few seconds.

I will give you a short list of the PWAs I have installed on my devices. Unfortunately, Android web apps don’t let audio play in the background, so some, like Spotify, can only be used on desktop platforms like Chrome OS.


This post I dumped my least used Android apps for web apps, and you should too

was original published at “https://www.androidauthority.com/web-apps-vs-android-apps-3132506/”