Tip o' the Week 426 – You've been PWAned
Both the Windows/Microsoft Store app marketplace and the kinds of apps it contains have had a number of generations, from phone apps (designed for Windows Phone) , through Windows 8’s so-called “Metro” apps, to the later Universal Windows Platform apps ushered in by the Windows 10 platform. The goal of UWPs is to allow a single code-base to run on multiple Windows 10 based environments, such as tablet/PC, phone, HoloLens and Xbox One.
The inconvenient truth with the UWP model is that, for most people, apps are used primarily on their phone and on smaller tablet devices. With the demise of Windows Phone, and the tablet market consisting largely of cheap Android tabs, expensive iPads, and Windows “2 in 1” detachables rather than straight-up Windows 10 tablets, there are arguably few compelling reasons for app developers to support UWPs, unless they feel a particular need to also target relatively niche devices like HoloLens, Surface Hub and Xbox.
Devs could turn to an app framework like Xamarin, which would let them support multiple device types and OSes, generating UWP apps alongside their Android and iOS counterparts.
When the vast majority of their addressable market is someone sitting in front of a PC, not a phone, if you’re an app developer who already supports Windows, then it might be easier to wrap your existing PC app using the Desktop Bridge, allowing for distribution through the Store but without needing to completely rewrite the app as a UWP one, as both Spotify and Amazon Music have shown.
One tell-tale of an app that’s probably been packaged with the Desktop Bridge, is that if you look at it in the Store, you’ll see that it’s available on PC only.
In a nutshell, PWAs are web sites built to behave more like dedicated mobile apps, with features like caching, notifications & more, so a mobile version of an existing web site could obviate the need for building an app as well. Developers could build a specific app for the remaining mobile platforms (natively, or with frameworks like Xamarin or – check out this excellent intro – Google’s Flutter), alternatively they just put their efforts into a PWA, which can run on any modern browser, mobile or otherwise. There’s a lot of love for PWAs in some quarters of the mobile developer world.
As highlighted by Windows Central, PWAs are now appearing in the Microsoft Store, potentially giving top tier app developers a way of supporting Windows, even if they haven’t decided to specifically build a dedicated Windows app.
To quickly find the list of all Microsoft-published apps, start with Skyscanner, and you’ll see the publisher is “Microsoft Store” itself – scroll down to the Additional information, click on that link and you’ll find the others that have been published at the same time. Or search the web.
Of course, publishers may well choose to proactively put their own apps into the Store, or if they publish PWAs elsewhere, then the best of them may get hoovered up and added to the Microsoft Store on their behalf.