How 5G and Progressive Web Apps may fix Microsoft's app gap

Microsoft's personal computing efforts are often met with legitimate criticisms about its app gap. It lacks the developer support critical to the modern app model.

The current model has shortcomings, however. As app stores grow app discoverability becomes increasingly difficult. Furthermore, the average user uses only six apps regularly, doesn't frequent app stores and rarely downloads new apps. In fact, web properties are engaged more frequently than apps.

As 5G networks, Progressive Web Apps (PWA) and processors like Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 begin to take root, some challenges of the current app model (which are problematic for all platforms) will be solved. This shift toward platform-agnostic PWAs may help Microsoft escape the app gap-imposing confines of the current app model. It will be the progressive implementation of 5G networks and modern processors, the maturation of PWAs and multi-generational waves of cellular PCs and folding-mobile devices that may help Microsoft overcome the app gap. Let's break it down.

What is 5G?

According to Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf 5G is, unlike the incremental steps from 1G to 4G, a new technology that will transform connected computing. Qualcomm will begin 5G rollout in 2019.

It'll make accessing apps on the web as fast as the memory on your phone.

5G will handle 1000 times more traffic than current networks, will be 10 times faster than 4G LTE and have half millisecond latency. 5G will enable autonomous cars, secure remote healthcare, immersive AR and more.

Furthermore, Qualcomm's 845 Snapdragon processor will "make accessing the apps on the web as fast as the memory on your phone," said Alex Katouzian SVP of Qualcomm Semicon. If Microsoft's folding mobile device launches with it in late 2018, it'll be capable of accessing web apps as fast as it would native apps. This first-gen device will be positioned to benefit from evolving PWA technology.

What are PWAs?

"Progressive Web Apps combine the best of the web and the best of apps." Users aren't required to install them, and they become more powerful as users use them. Google spearheaded PWAs in Chrome and Microsoft's Edge browser will also support them.

PWAs work for any user, on any form factor, offline or on low-latency networks, feel like apps, remain updated, are discoverable, installable and can be shared via a link. Since mobile users frequent web properties more than apps PWAs are more consistent with human behavior than apps.

Here's how PWAs and 5G will benefit Microsoft. Qualcomm's 845 (and later) chips and high capacity-low latency networks make web apps as quick as native apps. Microsoft's Project Westminster can create hybrid PWA-UWP apps enabling notifications, Cortana integration, Live Tiles, Windows Store distribution and more. Developers might embrace PWAs (which are not web wrappers) because they're easier to build and can target a broader base.

Progressive disintegration of the app gap

Rather than the knee-jerk, "but there are no apps" response to Microsoft's personal and mobile computing attempts users should consider the following scenario. The folding Surface device expected in late 2018 will be a first-gen, category-creating aspirational (not a savior) product. It'll launch during the early stages of PWAs (likely with Snapdragon 845), in the wake of consumer cellular PCs, on the precipice of a 2019 5G rollout. Let's consider a possible timeline.

This device will be a cellular PC like those launching in the consumer space now. The difference: it'll be pocketable, enterprise-focused and likely telephony-enabled.

  • Early 2018 onward consumers will begin growing accustomed to always-connected cellular PCs and eSIM technology. eSIM allows users to purchase data from the Windows Store and gives them more nuanced control over carriers.
  • Throughout 2018 consumers will encounter evolving PWA experiences in Edge on cellular PCs (and other contexts). Fall 2018, Microsoft's foldable device will launch for the enterprise and prosumers. Around that time into 2019 second-gen cellular PCs will hit the consumer space as the PWA experience continues maturing.
  • 5G rollout will also begin in 2019. Microsoft's first-gen and, late 2019, second-gen enterprise-focused pocketable PCs, and some consumer cellular PCs may experience the benefits of 5G edge computing and PWAs on that limited 2019 rollout.
  • By 2020 OEMs may begin bringing Microsoft-inspired, telephony-enabled, cellular pocket PCs to consumers as 5G will then be more widespread, PWAs more mature and third generation cellular PCs will have made the cellular PC experience the norm for consumers.

With a mature PWA experience, pocketable-cellular PCs with telephony (where data and voice can be purchased from the Store) may be an appealing consumer category by 2020.

Beyond, "But there are no apps…"

There are many obstacles to this playing out as described. Limited 5G coverage is just one. Still, Microsoft's Windows, cellular and pocketable PC efforts must be observed within the context of the effects of evolving industry tech: PWA's, newer processors and 5G networks.

High-capacity, low-latency 5G connectivity, processors that treat web apps as native apps and a mature PWA environment are fundamental, platform-agnostic, industry-wide factors that can conceivably help Microsoft fix the app gap.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

155 Comments
  • The problem is, Microsoft devices won't be the only ones to access 5G and PWAs. Current PWAs are made to run on Chrome or the Chromium engine (Electron apps) so if future PWAs can run on Windows they will certainly run better on Android, Chrome OS and even iOS so there's still no need to have Windows on anything else than the bulky, old PC and maybe even that is at risk  
  • Why would they run better?
  • One anatase pwa's might well have is superior functionality. As a recent Android convert (after a brief stint with iPhone 7+ when I finally left Windows phone), I was shocked to realize how many apps lack the full functionality of the websites, even the mobile versions. If I can use a more full featured solution in a web app, I'll uninstall the local app and use it every time.
  • True, but my question, in response to ahumeniy's comment above, is why would PWA's presumably run better on iOS, and Android, than Windows?
    .....
    Go back, and read his comment.
    His argument seems to be about browser capabilities, but HTML 5 is a standard, and MS has the freedom to tailor Edge to perform desirably with PWA's, just as they do with other browsers... Even if Chrome, or Safari, had more compatibilities (because that's what we're talking about here) than Edge, it would most likely be so marginal that any average consumer wouldn't notice. It's just not fair to make those statement until these browsers were put to the test with the most modern, and powerful, PWA's. Sounds like a non issue for anyone outside of tech enthusiast to me.
  • Yeah, I think he said this, because chrome and safari already support PWAs, while Edge is only beginning to do it now, so google and apple had more time to develop it than Microsoft. But since HTML5 is a standard (as you said), and Edge is a pure HTML5 browser, I also don't think it'll be an issue. I just hope that once PWAs become mainstream, they will run better on all platforms than now. I don't want to deal with slow animations, long response times, and ugly visual glitches on a device as expensive as todays flagship smartphones, or the rumored andromeda device :D
  • Only Chrome and Firefox are the ones that already support it (maybe Opera as well). Edge will be next and Safari will be last (Apple was quite reluctant at first, fear for their app store I guess but as it WILL be the next best thing, they started with the implementation).
  • They were right to be reluctant as it will destroy app stores as we know them.  However Apple being a Hardware vendor, this will probably affect them the least.  Google has the most to lose with Android and Chrome OS will probably Dissappear to be replaced by Vendor specific versions of Android/Chrome or Linux (year of the Desktop Linux?).  Most vendors including MS, will evolve to an Apple like model in which they will control the Hardware and Software.  Windows will almost entirely dissappearing from the Consumer sector on third party devices and mostly only exist on MS first party Surface devices.  They will stay strong in enterprise due to backwards compatability and consistant security/support model.  Full OS servers will also mostly go away too, to be replaced by Containers with thin OSes with WASM powered PWAs or similar technology or cloud based services like Azure and AWS.  We are on the cusp of a truely disruptive change.  I really don't think anybody really understands the profound changes that we are getting ready to go through... However This is a really great change and will truely democratize computing.
  • Ahhhhh, I see. Coolzers
  • @rodneyej: Why would they run better? Because developers test on the platforms their users use. Chrome and Safari are, by far, the most common browsers out there which means bugs are rooted out. Edge only runs on the desktop and is only used by a small percentage of Windows 10 users. Even now that Microsoft has released Edge for iOS and Chrome it will remain a niche browser. Niche == small == not worth devoting $$$ to! Utlimately it all boils down to the number of users affected. Edge has a tiny market share, even on the desktop, and, its users are likely to be, on average, quite low on the technological totem pole since they (likely) don't know about other browser or how to go about switching browsers. There is actually a silver lining to this situation. Because Edge--both fairly and unfairly--is ignored it means that Microsoft has to work harder at R&D and not just play illegal games. It does mean that Windows is poorly served in terms of apps but that's only fair. Developers have finite $$$ to spend on R&D and they put that money where it gives them the best ROI and that ROI is not in a Microsoft Store app.
  • They would run better because those other platforms are mature enough and supported by their commited makers, unlike windows 10 which has become a pathetic joke.
  • In most reviews of Windows Phones, people praised the cameras, the UI functionality and customization and a slew of a number of things, but reviewers always pointed out the gap. Because their specific apps they used weren't available, they wouldn't recommend the switch. This approach negates this problem, so anybody who wants to try something different can try something different without losing any apps. However I still have concerns about how useful such apps will be when on vacation and / or away from any signal. This article says it won't be a problem, but I would probably want to wait and see.
  • PWAs run locally.  They are stored like apps but they are installed like shortcuts and updated like web pages and they are completely platform agnostic.  Combined with WASM ( Web Assembly) they are the ultimate evolution of software.  They will change everything.  They not only make windows on a phone factor viable they make BlackBerry OS, WebOS, Tinzen, Linux on the desktop and any other niche OS viable.  I predict this will kill Android and chrome OS from Google, and severly weaken Windows, but will birth numerous manufactures to create specific versions of Android, Linux, or custom OS just for their phones and smart devices and PCs.  This will effectively destroy the walled app garden.  The impact of this tech can not be over stated. IT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING. 
  • Maybe within 20 years or so, but not the next five years. Just ask yourself how many apps are there compared to the number of PWA:s. I've seen around 10 PWA:s so far. The .ost notable ones are Google Keep, Google Pictures, Telegram and Instagram. Please mention some more?
  • @blomsternisse. You do realize that the current app model went from non-existent to millions of apps available in less than five years. Phone are replaced an average of every two years. This new technology won't take long to spread.
  • amen. not sure why MS dragged it's feet here either. 
  • @Praxius "Because their specific apps they used weren't available, they wouldn't recommend the switch. This approach negates this problem," That proverbial ship has sailed and it sailed many years ago. Microsoft tried and failed to (re)gain a foothold in the mobile market. iOS and Android have steamrollered right over Windows Phone and never looked back. iOS is now insanely profitable. Android runs on a boatload of devices. Those two mobile OSes have vanquished all competitors in much the same way that Mac and Windows vanquished all other commercial desktop OSes in the 1990's (where are OS/2, BeOS, Amiga, Atari, Apple DOS and a slew of other even smaller players now?). Linux, while revolutionary, is a bit player on the desktop market and its largest commercial success story, Canonical, looks poised to pull R&D $$$ from the desktop version because it's not providing much in the way of ROI. Critical mass has been reached for iOS and Android. Developers have a huge library of software for those platforms. Their users now also have too much invested money-wise in those platforms. If you're an iOS user you likely have a massive library of music. You've also got years of apps and games. Each time you upgrade to a new phone that entire ecosystem follows you at no cost. Same thing applies to Android users though I don't think they've invested in music the way iOS users have! That's a pretty major bonus that's going to act to keep iOS and Android users loyal. It doesn't matter if Windows Phone 2.0 can run PWAs because few people care. They care that all their content can follow them, and, unless Apple changes business approaches, they will never allow their users' iTunes music, video and app libraries to follow them to a WIndows Phone 2.0 device. Same story with Google's Play Store!
  • Umm..what?
  • There can be differences as to how well PWA’s run on different OS’es, just like webpages, because they essentially ARE webpages. So on Android they would run on the Chrome engine, iOS would have Safari and Windows would have Edge. Apart from that, I am guessing that the parts of PWA’s that reach deeper into the OS such as Bluetooth support, etc. can also be differently support. Microsoft, for instance, just recently added support for web workers. How well does that work in v1 as opposed to Google, for instance, who have had them for a while, Normal users might not notice the difference opinion terms of how the browser engine is affecting the app running, but they will notice if the same app, they are used to running on one platform, say Android, runs differently/worse on a Windows. The advantage that PWA’s bring to Windows is an opportunity for web developers to write once and run everywhere, meaning Windows wouldn’t be left out in that case and at least have that same app, even if it does turn out to not run as well. But that doesn’t mean that all of the developers in the World are all of a sudden going to completely rewrite their existing native apps on iOS and Android, just to support Windows. And if you are comparing PWA’s with native apps, the latter are still going to hold advantages on their native platforms, have access to specific features, etc. So PWA’s are not for all scenarios, at least not to begin with. I don’t mean to rain on the parade - I agree that this is the right move - I am just personally cautiously hopeful that PWA’s will do any significant good. I still feel like UWP and Windows as a platform for modern apps is still not mature enough and this is actually what I am hoping the most will get improved. Not just the quantity of apps, but certainly also the quality.
  • Agree with MooCoo.
    I use Nexus cause I (as a programmer and hacker) don't trust the reliability of 3rd party rom or custom rom.
    I'm a game programmer, we've 4k+ people in the office, more if you count world wide.
    I cannot do my work on an Android. Designers, planners won't be able to too. Sure, out ticket system, wiki, project manager, etc are all web-based, but Game Engine, VisualStudio, Dx+Havok, Office, SVN, etc... only available on Windows. File Explorer, remote desktop and other business tools, KB are crucial too. Besides, we need powerful machines. People in the cooperate, CS department uses NBs, except Office and Outlook, most of their works are done on the web.
    The appearance of win10 NBs start to emerge and my next exchange could be a win10 branded desktop.
    That being said, I bet Win10AMR (20 hours battery life + e-sim + light weight) is enough for business sidda people. Sure, we are still in the transition (and it's slower than mobiles), but MS's not gonna support OS they've dropped anymore and there's just no going back. Freshman, indie and startup's option from now on is either UWP or web, not exe, unless you are skipping Windows (PC, S, ARM or maybe AR/MR, IOT, Xboxes) as a whole, or you'd rather do your own installer, uninstaller, updater, crack-proof, advertisement and ask people to trust your no-name software to do their system no harm? MS still keeps older Windows in win10 for BC but who can guarantee it's existent? software / api deprecates no? What if MS decided to "clean house" for "OS diet" like Apple and Google did? What if OEM decided to remove older Windows to squeeze more HDD space? So, what can be done on mobile but cannot be done on PC? What can be done on PC but cannot be done on mobile? For me, iOS is inefficient to operate, iPhoneX is more inefficient than its predecessors, Android's better but nothing interesting is going on. I'm not install anything new except a few new games (e.g. Beat Street or CatBird). News reading, email, msg, YouTube, etc can be done on a PC, but XPA, OneDrive on Demand, VisualStudio (code, QA, compile), Inking, Photoshop, etc cannot be done on an Android or iPhone.
    Not just XPA, I can even compile my own emulator and install it on my Alienware, Surface Pro, Xbox and, those small size Win10ARM.
    I'll not miss Android tbh.
  • Web pages have been plauged by bad programming because of Javascript/CSS/HTML is so easy to program badly.  You had a bunch of Web Developers targeting beta features of specific browsers instead of mainstream accepted features accepted by the web standards group.  They used tags to allow the features to work or not work.  Unfortunately this resulted in a lot of developers targeting Chrome specific features that broke in other browsers.  Moving forward though they have fixed this by getting rid of the browser flags and implementing feature abilities instead.  This will provide a much more consistent web experience moving forward.  In addition WASM (Web Assymbly) will offer a more consistent programming model as it is a more stuctured programming language and provides a lot of backwards compatability as unsupported features will simply compile to supported features such as asm.js.
  • For your notice, some people do go to work daily, and need PCs for real work. We dont give a s*** if you can throw stones on pigs better with your android.
  • Good. The more companies adopt PWA, the more developers will target it. The less of an app gap there will be. As for performance, Edge can improve, so I won't be worried about that.
  • Q: "You obtuse piece of flotsam"
  • "so if future PWAs can run on Windows they will certainly run better on Android, Chrome OS and even iOS so there's still no need to have Windows on anything else than the bulky, old PC and maybe even that is at risk" That makes no sense.
  • PWA can run on anything, no reason it is better on Chrome. Android has security issues, especially enterprise. Like the new Starbucks web app, is PWA and it runs better on WM than the original WM app. Millions of devuces run on PC, some are mobile like laptops and tablets. Andromeda devices may push that even higher. The reason apps even exist on iPhone is because it had a crappy web browser, and 1st gen iPhone didn't even have 3G or app. PWA is the future.
  • PWA is indeed the future, and that is a concern. PWAs could well lead to a lovely universal app platform for all, but conversely they may herald the locking down of the web into pay-as-you-go and pay-subscription based experiences for everything. Want to play a game you love? Forget 'loot boxes', you'll buy an hour at a time. Like having a library of games you've bought? Now imagine they all work like MMORPGs and require a monthly fee to maintain. Ouch. Like browsing the web? Now imagine every site is a landing page for subscription to an app. Worried about cookies? Welcome to a world where every 'web page' has an EULA and requires you assess and maintain a slew of generalised and ever changing permissions to access your data and hardware. The possibilities are endless. Of course, likely things will end up somewhere in between the utopian and dystopian paradigms. Things are certain, however, to get a lot more complex the further software becomes removed from your device and controlled in an increasingly remote manner. Interesting times...
  • 🤔 (Ajit Pi)=(Pay-as-you-go; pay-subscription)... 😋
  • Like the internet before obummer? Yeah it'll be a shame we have to return to those dark days of pay as you go...
  • Interesting thought.  Although I think individual games subscriptions will be the exception, not the norm.  I expect to see subscriptions game libraries.  Basically like netflix for games.  Steam, XBox, Playstation, Nintendo, EA will probably all evolve to this model.
  • PWA’s can be different (better/worse) on other platforms, just like web pages in other browsers, because they ARE web pages in other browsers. Safari on iOS might not have been capable enough to run apps, but I would argue that native appps will hold an advantage over PWA’s for a good long while. They can more easily tap into native features in the OS, etc. Besides there are literally millions of native apps already out there that won’t be rewritten for PWA anytime soon. Finally, many attempts have been made at making cross platform frameworks, also ones that were web based. But so far they all have the same problem as Java used to have: not as fast  not as functional as native apps. PWA might be different, but that remains to be seen. So while PWA are certainly part of the future, I don’t know if we can say yet that they ARE the future. And let me just reiterate from above, I fully support Microsoft for doing this. To me it is certainly the right move.
  • Native Apps won't have to be rewritten, native WASM(Web Assembly) PWAs can be compiled from a number of languages C, C++, Objective C are currently supported with support for languages like Swift, Java, .Net (C#, VB.net, F#...) coming soon.  This will allow developers to quickly convert thier existing apps to PWAs.  Additionally WASM provides pretty much native speed as it is a binary language not an interpreted language like Javascript.  PWAs also provide native hooks into the operating system so they act like regulare apps, not web pages.  PWA/WASM can replace 99% of apps people use with exception of AntiVirus or similar deep level system apps or apps written explicity for specific OS features.  PWA/WASM will change EVERYTHING.  This can not be overstated. People and even tech companies do not relized the disruption this will bring, but it will be good disruption as it will democratize computing.
  • Here is a report on Starbucks PWA. Is is faster than iOS app, smaller in size etc. https://formidable.com/work/starbucks-progressive-web-app/
  • Wait, weren't you told that the bots are next big thing that will kill the apps? I mean why we have to rely on PWA when the bots will be the next big thing? Or after 10 months you will invent something new that will fill the app gap as PWA won't solve the problem just like neither of dozens of other things (like bridges) haven't helped before?
  • Bots, AI, PWA all have a place. Now I hear your "position", which you have a right to have. What I don't hear is a well articulated argument FOR your position.
    You're in essence simply saying what I have articulated and supported won't work, but not providing any support for your opposition.
    You DEFINITELY don't have to agree with me🙂 But please bring more to the discussion😉
  • Jason, this is the problem with WC "credibility gap". I have been following you guys since WM Mango and everytime a reset happened this site justified the reset with - "the next iteration will be the one to solve all issues" - and so it went - Mango, WM10, UWP, OneWindows and so on. Next Daniel actually aticulated in a lenghtly article that apps are boring and so old school, bots will be the next gen apps and Microsoft is uniquely positioned for that. Well I guess the time for bots is stiil not here. So now there is something in between apps and bots - and that aaccording to you is 5G and PWA. I totally understand technology is a changing landscape - but your narratives change even faster and most frustratingly, is not in step with the actual technology changes. Its like you guys are trying to foretell the future. Why ? What ths point. We understand WM failed due to app gap. Dont stuff imaginary (based on some realistic scenarios) solutions everytime to fill that narrative gap. My point with yet another Warditorial is that this is just that your opinioon based not on any insider knowledge. We all know 5G is coming, and PWA's are here is a minor way. But connecting 5G to PWA revolution is a stretch. I dont see why more PWA apps are not there now (even on Android) with 4G? Its not that slow. This is where serious readers have issues with your prognostications. Why dont you actually do reporting based on real stuff going on and insightful analysis - instead of resorting to fulfilling some windows phone f