Chrome 42: Narrowing the Gap Between Web & Native Apps

Chrome 42: Narrowing the Gap Between Web & Native Apps

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Websites have typically been less desirable than native apps, due to being unoptimized for mobile screens, responsiveness issues or simply not being able to provide all the features you might desire. New web standards aim to change that, and Chrome 42 will bring several of them to you.

Push Notifications

You’ll be able to receive notifications from supported websites even after you’ve closed the page. Naturally, you’ll have to grant permission to websites to do so: have no worries about being spammed by advertisements. Revoking permission is also very easy and can be done directly from the notification. This allows developers to push notifications to your device using Google Cloud Messaging, which means it comes with little to no additional battery consumption. On the other hand, this might make it unusable for users who prefer to stay away from Google apps and services — we’ll see how this is implemented in other browsers. This can be used by websites to deliver live updates or breaking news. Some early adopters include Facebook, eBay, Pinterest and VICE News.

Chrome Push Notifications

“Add to homescreen”

With websites becoming more and more similar to native apps in many aspects, it makes sense for some users to prefer them and start using them like normal apps. When visiting websites optimized for mobile devices like Flipboard or Medium, you’ll see an “Add to homescreen” button appear at the bottom of your screen. As you’ve probably guessed, this allows you to add a shortcut to your homescreen for easy access. This isn’t your average shortcut, though, as you’ll only see this button for websites that are considered web apps and work (at least partially) offline.

For reference, a web app is basically a website that has provides some information about itself when “installed” as an app: an icon, a launch URL, an orientation, a category, etc. This is called the Web App Manifest and is similar to the AndroidManifest.xml if you’ve ever heard of that.

Chrome Add to Homescreen

Offline content

We’ve mentioned this just above, but it’s interesting enough to give it its own section. We’ll keep it simple: while this was possible before, service workers make offline websites much easier to implement, especially for multi-page websites.
Service workers are basically JavaScript scripts that run in the background and handle things like caching, or even background sync and other features in the future. They only run when needed, of course!

Heading Towards More Usable Web Apps

That’s not all, though. Other exciting (we’d say creepy if your permission wasn’t required, but that’s not the case) features like accessing your camera and location will also be possible, further reducing the gap between native apps and web apps. To read more about these changes, head over to the Chromium blog (if you’re a web dev, you’ll also find more linked resources there).