I’ve gotten rid of the less frequently used Android apps for web apps, and you should too

lyft weight web app

Calvin Wankede / Android Authority

Almost every company wants you to download their own app these days, even if you probably don’t need to. Take Uber and Starbucks, for example. I take a taxi and visit a coffee shop once in a blue moon – should these apps stay on my device permanently? I guess I’m not alone in this regard either. Many of us have apps that we rarely use but keep anyway – just in case.

But what if you don’t want to put up with single-use apps that drain your phone’s precious few resources? It turns out that there is actually a viable alternative, and many of us have overlooked it: Progressive Web Apps.

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

Unlike traditional websites, you can actually install a PWA. This gets rid of the distracting address bar at the top. Many modern web applications also include a splash screen, offline functionality, and push notification support. Take a look at the following screenshots, for example:

If I don’t label the images above, will you be able to tell the original app apart from the PWA? Probably not, unless you know what to look for. Modern web apps offer an experience that is arguably on par with most full-fledged Android apps while consuming a small portion of your device’s resources.

Somewhat ironically, we’ve come full circle—the original iPhone famously lacked the App Store because Apple thought developers would take advantage of Safari “to create Web 2.0 apps that look and act just like the apps built into the iPhone.”

Why use web applications over the original?

uber weight web app

Calvin Wankede / Android Authority

You might be wondering why he hates the idea of ​​installing native apps. After all, storage space isn’t a concern for most of us anymore – gone are the days of 16 and 32 GB smartphones.

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

PWAs address all of these issues in one fell swoop. Web applications typically target the lowest common denominator of hardware, which makes them high-performance and lightweight. For example, Uber’s Android app took up more than 250MB of my phone’s storage. The PWA I replaced now takes up only 250KB. Needless to say, this is a huge difference.

Besides consuming less storage and background resources, web applications have fewer privileges compared to native applications.

Since web applications run within the confines of a browser, they have much fewer privileges than native applications. PWAs cannot access your device’s file system, contacts, or SMS messages. Access to hardware-level features such as camera and microphone input is also locked, requiring you to provide explicit permission.

Moreover, the web app cannot consume countless resources in the background or spam you through push notifications by default. The first is particularly important for apps like Uber and Facebook, which have previously been accused of collecting geolocation data in the background. And while Android 13 is set to offer a push notification permission dialog, app developers won’t have to comply until next year.

Low-quality computers and laptops benefit the most from PWAs. Many budget Chromebooks still ship with just 4GB of RAM, over half of which is reserved by the system. I’ve found that disabling the Android subsystem on these devices can greatly improve responsiveness and overall user experience. Most of the frequently used apps – including Spotify, Telegram, and Slack – offer PWAs that use very little memory.

In fact, Google does this automatically as well. If you try to install Zoom on the Chrome OS Play Store, the lightweight PWA will be downloaded instead of the Android app.

PWAs: Google Instant Apps, but better?

Wish prompt application prompt

The idea of ​​getting app-like functionality on Android without a massive prior download isn’t entirely new.

In 2016, Google introduced Instant Apps – a way to temporarily access parts of an Android app without actually installing it. The feature works fine even today, but you will rarely use it. This is because the instant apps can only be accessed via a web link or in the case of app demos, the Play Store. I haven’t found a single app 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 Crossword and The Weather Channel in the New York Times seem to have disabled the feature entirely in recent updates, presumably due to its limited usefulness and waning user adoption.

The Google Instant Apps experience hasn’t seen widespread adoption or improvement in years.

By contrast, PWAs are more capable, intuitive to use, and widely available. It’s also cross-platform, which means developers have a lot of incentive to support them in the long run.

Except for some incompatible web browsers, PWAs offer the same user experience regardless of whether you’re using Windows, iOS or Android. Historically, this level of consistency has been difficult to achieve – just look at failed mobile operating systems like BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone for proof.

How to find and install web applications on your device

Install twitter web app from chrome

Calvin Wankede / Android Authority

While PWA adoption has gained momentum over the past couple of years, discoverability remains one of its biggest problems. There is no central internet app store (although Appscope is trying to get close) so you won’t know a particular website is a PWA until you visit it at least once. Once you stumble upon one, just accept the prompt to add it to your home screen or tap on it Installing the application In the full Chrome menu (pictured above).

Keep in mind that PWAs sometimes get less priority and attention compared to their native counterparts. The Twitter web app, for example, still doesn’t allow you to access Spaces – the platform’s new voice chat feature. (Editor’s note: This can be seen as a bonus, in fact.) The Instagram app has similar advantages as well. However, if you only need the basic functionality of these platforms, you will be more than satisfied with their PWAs.

Make no mistake, though. PWAs can be incredibly powerful if developers are motivated. Take PhotoPea, for example. It is an advanced image editor that can offer similar functionality as Gimp and Photoshop while running entirely within your browser. You can also play it and use it offline – handy if you are another Chromebook user.

Installing a PWA takes just a few clicks and a few seconds.

I’ll leave you a quick list of the PWAs I have installed on my devices. Unfortunately, Android doesn’t allow web apps to play audio in the background, so some like Spotify can only be used on desktop platforms like Chrome OS.