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Google blurs the line between websites and Android apps

You can now add fancy "progressive" sites to the front page and app drawer.
Steve Dent, @stevetdent
February 3, 2017
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With its latest Chrome Beta release, Google has given app-like websites called "Progressive Web Apps" a higher status on Android. If you launch a site like Flipkart Lite in the latest Android Chrome beta, you'll now get the option "add to home screen," where it'll appear like any other app on your home screen and app drawer. You'll then be able to control notifications in the Android notification management controls, rather than in the Chrome settings like regular web sites.

Progressive Web Apps use the latest HTML and web features to make sites "reliable, fast and engaging," as Google describes them. To do that, they use functions called "service workers" that cache key resources so that the app will load faster and work even if you're not connected to the internet (no "downasaur," Google says). Sites also feel more like a "natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience," it says.

The huge commitment required by developers means that Progressive Web Apps haven't been widely adopted yet. They're not to be confused with Instant Apps that let you run an actual app (not a site) from a URL link without the need to download it from the Play Store. In both cases, however, Google's aim is to give users new ways to discover apps without having to commit to downloading them.

Progressive Web Apps will also appear in Android settings, and allow you to set "intents," ie, they'll launch when you tap a certain URL, for instance. Other new features in the latest Chrome Beta include "CSS Grid Layout" support that gives developers more website design options and new ways for developers to display artist names, artwork and song titles on media player lockscreens. You can now find the latest Chrome beta (version 57.0) at the Play Store.

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