‘Web wrappers,’ or web applications haphazardly packaged into native apps for distribution on app stores, have existed on Android for over a decade. Google created a new method for converting web apps into native apps last year, with the introduction of Trusted Web Activities, and now Microsoft has updated its PWABuilder tool to take advantage of newer web features.
If you’re not familiar with them, Trusted Web Activities allow developers to run web applications inside Chrome Custom Tabs, without the address bar or any other Chrome parts visible. Unlike WebViews, which have been used for over a decade to embed web content in native apps, Trusted Web Activities support push notifications, offline access, and everything else a web app can do inside Chrome.
However, there’s still one major sore point with TWA apps — they still have to be compiled like native applications, usually with the full Android Studio SDK. Google doesn’t allow developers to generate APKs and app bundles just by entering the app’s web address in the Play Console, like Samsung does with the Galaxy Store.
Thankfully, Google is working to improve tools that are commonly used to generate Trusted Web Activity apps. Some Google employees (the documentation explicitly says “This is not a Google product”) have been working on Bubblewrap, a command-line application for building TWA projects. Developers using Bubblewrap to generate native applications don’t need the entire Android SDK installed, only Node.js.
Example of a PWA (PhotoStack.app) with app shortcuts
Meanwhile, Microsoft has updated its web-based PWABuilder tool to use Bubblewrap under the hood, which means more features are available. For example, PWABuilder can now detect when a web app supports home screen shortcuts, and will add the same shortcuts to the compiled APK. PWABuilder also now has options for changing the appearance of Android’s status/navigation bars, the app’s splash screen, fallback behavior, and more.
The new options available in PWABuilder
While it would be nice to see a builder tool integrated into the Google Play Console, at least there are now plenty of options for generating APKs from Progressive Web Apps that don’t require installing Android Studio and messing around with XML resources.
- PWABuilder Blog