Progressive Web Apps are Coming to Firefox for Android
Ever since smartphones became popular, the debate for web apps vs. native apps has been raging on. Steve Jobs’ original vision for the iPhone didn’t include an app store and would only run web apps, but things didn’t turn out that way. In the past few years, native apps have exploded in popularity, while web apps have stagnated. However, the problem is that native apps are either not built using open standards, or distributed through ‘walled gardens’ in the form of app stores. What was needed was a way to combine the best features of both technologies, and the Google Chrome team have worked on Progressive Web Apps as a solution to make web apps as fast and reliable as native apps.
Although their use and popularity is accelerating, the big problem with Progressive Web Apps up till now has that they have been restricted to running only on the Google Chrome browser. While Chrome is by far the most popular web browser on Android, alternative browsers are also popular with users thanks to Android’s open nature. Today, a hurdle for the adoption of Progressive Web Apps has been cleared as Mozilla has announced that they are coming to the homescreen Firefox for Android.
More specifically, Mozilla has announced that Firefox 58 for Android will ship with Web App Manifest support, in the form of “Add to Home screen” functionality.
As a brief explainer, Progressive Web Apps are standardized web technologies which make web apps look and feel like native apps. They can be added to the home screen, and they have a separate entry in the Recents app switcher on Android. The aim of PWA is to make the experience of web apps them as good as native apps, achieving this by the use of the open technology of web apps.
Mozilla shipped Service Workers and Push in Firefox 44, two technologies part of Progressive Web Apps. On Firefox 58, a badge will appear in the address bar on websites that are served over HTTPS and have a valid manifest. When this badge is tapped, users can use the “Add to Home screen” option to add the web app on their home screen. A web app launched from the home screen will be shown in the configured view mode and orientation, and it will appear as a separate entry in the Recents app switcher.
Firefox 58 also changes the behaviour of how external links are handled: when a user is browsing an installed progressive web app and taps an external link, the page in question is opened in a Custom Tab. According to Mozilla, this keeps the user secure as the URL and safety information are visible, speeds up page load time (a Custom Tab loads faster than the full browser), preserves the progressive web app’s color branding, and is in line with native app behaviour.
Mozilla also plans to add more support for other PWA-related APIs such as Background Sync, Payment Request and Web Share APIs.
Users can try out the “Add to Home screen” implementation in Firefox Nightly for Android by enabling PWA support under Settings > Advanced > Experimental features.