Chrome OS has become one of the best operating systems on the market today by its ability to seamlessly combine traditional web browser experiences with progressive web apps, Android apps and Linux apps. Now, Google is looking at shaking up the Chrome OS experience, for better or worse, by sometimes preferring Android apps over web apps.
As it stands today, when you’re browsing a website that can be installed by Chrome OS, you’ll see a handy little icon in your Omnibox. Clicking this Install button puts the PWA (progressive web app) into your Chrome OS launcher, just like any other app.
When a developer creates a PWA, they need to describe the details of the app to your browser. As part of this, the developer can also specify “related applications,” such as the iOS or Android version of the app, and whether or not they would prefer you use one of these apps instead of the web app.
A pair of commits in the Chromium Gerrit source code management indicates that Google is looking at making Android apps a higher priority by redirecting to the Play Store for some apps.
This CL allows Chrome OS to query ARC for whether a PWA has a supported related app available and installable. If it does, the installation action redirects to the Play Store.
With this change, under the hood, if a developer marks that their site has a Chrome OS specific app (“chromeos_play” to be precise), Chrome OS will open the Play Store for you to install the Android app, instead of the web app. If your Chromebook isn’t compatible with the app, the web app will install as normal, but there’s currently no way to choose for yourself to stick with the web app.
Some applications have minor (or even major) differences between their normal web site, Android app, and PWA that tend to make one of the options better than the others. Having the freedom to choose whether to install the web app or the Android app is one of Chrome OS’s major strengths, and this change seems to somewhat infringe on that freedom.
As this change is just now appearing in Chromium code, it should arrive with Chrome OS 77. Additionally, since it requires a change from web developers, Google will likely share more information about this change to Chrome OS app installation in the near future.
I personally hope that Google makes this optional before it launches. There are some apps, like Twitter, which have excellent PWAs that I would prefer to keep using. Thankfully, in that particular case, Twitter does not currently list any related applications.