Progressive Web Apps and the app stores

The main target of this rant is the Google Play Store, but it could be applied to all other app stores as well. Except for the Windows Store, which will list and let you install progressive web apps. Good on you, Microsoft!

I’m just going to conclude this rant right here at the beginning: I want to see progressive web apps in the Google Play Store.

So, let’s do some rationales for this, shall we?

The general comment from Google has been that “the search engine is the app store”. If you search for “air horn” on Google, you’ll be getting a selection of air horns: YouTube links, definitions, links to Play Store air horn apps and Amazon listings for actual air horns. So yes — you will be getting an air horn in some way or another if you truly want it.

However, I really don’t feel like it covers the bases well enough (at least not right now). This because of three key reasons:

  1. Habits
  2. Discoverability
  3. Ownership the namespace

Habits

The main reason I want to see PWAs in app stores is because of people’s habits and expectations. Tell someone to “try this app”, and a lot of people will search for the application in their preferred app store. And when they don’t find it, there’s a very good chance that they’ll give up.

Some will search for your app, but even there the Play Store results will be specifically marked as being an application. Your awesome PWA on the other hand will be treated as any other result, with no real way to communicate to the user that this not a mere document.

You know what you’ll be getting when you install something from the app stores — a finely tuned app experience.

When your potential users wants an instantly loading, offline capable, home screen positioned air horn experience, you want to be there for them where they’ll be looking for it.

This might of course change in the future, when PWAs have proliferated the planet, user expectations has changed, search engines have become better at communicating the destinations’ capabilities. But this is not the reality we live in just yet.

Discoverability

While the Play Store search function is surprisingly, erm, not-great, users will on occasion look through the app stores, search a little, to see what the latest and greatest stuff they could be using their phone for these days are.

App store have ratings, reviews and categorization — all of which will help potential users find your application.

Owning the namespace

If you don’t own the app store position for your app, then someone else definitely will. Create a reasonably popular application, and there will be someone that’ll create an app that poses as yours. Worse yet, as the PWA is publicly available online, you have enabled the ability for malicious developers to embed your entire application inside a WebView, letting them own the experience instead of you.

At the very least, you want to be the first/best result in the store, the one with the most reviews and ratings to combat this.

A solution?

The least worst solution I can think of is embedding the PWA inside a WebView, and then have that listed in the store. This is far from ideal, as this steals development time, and has its own set of caveats and gotchas — most, if not all, would be moot if we could just have the app live in the app store.

Like Microsoft is doing.

Please.

Trond Kjetil Bremnes

Written by

Frontend magician at appear.in

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