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Looking for more good Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs? Check out Appscope.

PWAs are hybrid properties that possess the advantages of the web and conveniences of apps. They're discoverable, easily updated and platform-independent. In our connected world an ever-increasing amount of computing occurs in the cloud, browser-based activity dominates users' behavior and constant connectivity fosters leisure and professional collaboration.

Virtually everything we do on our devices has a connected component, and we (particularly digital natives) can barely conceive of computing that is not connected in some way. PWAs seem a natural fit for this reality. In its attempts to make its web and mobile experiences more efficient, Google has invested heavily in PWAs. And in an unlikely partnership Microsoft has been working collaboratively with its frenemy, Google, on the creation of standards to advance PWAs. Other companies including Mozilla and even Apple have shown interest in the technology.

Thus, in our app-driven connected environment, major industry-drivers are signaling that they see a future for PWAs. Appscope founders and childhood friends Carl Unger and Oskar Larsson also see this future. I hashed things out with Unger, and this is what I learned.

The what, where, why and when of Appscope

Appscope was started in April 2018 but officially launched in August. This young Stockholm, Sweden-based company is the brainchild of Unger and Larsson, and it is all about quality PWAs.

After years of developing for iOS, the duo found the app store's model to be problematic in numerous ways — long approval times (even for small updates), limited reach due to ecosystem restrictions, prohibitive development costs due to niche native technologies and non-transparent approval decisions, and more. These limitations motivated the duo to pursue the "openness and free spirit of the web platform."

Unlike native apps with dedicated app stores, however, finding quality PWAs is challenging. As many critics have noted not all PWAs are created equal. Unger and Larsson saw an opportunity to combine the discoverability advantage of native apps, with the openness and freedom of the web and Appscope (appsco.pe) was born.

More than just a storefront

Appscope isn't just a repository of PWAs. There is a deliberate mission driving the small company to have a major impact on a large and as yet unproven space. That won't be easy. Big players like Microsoft and Google have barely moved the needle on PWA adoption, developers are still enamored with traditional apps, and regular consumers are blissfully unaware PWAs exist. Appscope's ambitious mission is to change all of that by enlisting developers, building PWA awareness among consumers and organically growing the PWA ecosystem.

Appscope's foundation is an unwavering focus on the quality of the PWAs it features rather than the quantity. "To be listed on Appscope an app must meet the technical criteria for PWAs as well as provide an app-like meaningful experience to a broad audience," says Unger. With such a high standard 2018's already small pool of PWAs leaves an even smaller selection on Appscope's quality-focused platform. 272 to be exact, at the time of my discussions with Unger.

Appscope's goal is to feature PWAs that are great examples of the technology.

Compared to the millions of available apps in an app-focused environment, 272 PWAs sounds paltry, and it is. It's worth noting, however, that we're at the beginning of a computing shift that is becoming even more connected with Always Connected PCs (ACPC). Phones are getting larger, are folding and are becoming more capable of doing more complex tasks. New mobile PC form factors are on the horizon. And 5G and edge computing will keep all of our devices connected all of the time. This creates an environment ready to support the potential wave of PWAs industry-movers Google and Microsoft hope will follow their multi-million dollar investments in the technology.

So even with only 272 apps, with a growth rate of one to two per day (and a projected 300 by year-end), Appscope's positioning to feature only quality PWAs at the beginning of a potential wave of PWAs of varying quality levels is a strategic choice. Given that PWAs are virtually unknown to the general consumer and the technology is still young Unger wants to ensure Appscope's listed PWAs are great technical and user experience examples of PWAs.

Developers, developers, developers

Appscope is deliberate in its relationships with developers. It nurtures these relationships through reaching out, participation in developers forums, providing technical feedback, documentation on how to develop better PWAs and more. These efforts have resulted in the company moving from crawling the web (as Microsoft does) in search of PWAs, to receiving most PWA submissions directly from developers. Unger said:

We believe our system is more advantageous for the growth of the PWA ecosystem since it encourages developers to be more active and intentional with their use of PWA technologies.

Unger also stressed that Appscope's "process is focused on finding web apps that are PWA-first, rather than websites that complement their sites with PWA features without providing an app-like experience." This is a slower process toward achieving the critical mass needed to make PWAs mainstream that large quantities of PWAs would provide. Still, I think the strategy introduces a level of discipline that is better for the general education of what PWAs are, their adoption and growth in the long run.

Unger claims that compared to rivals its system is also more up-to-date than competitors who crawl the web for PWAs since active developer involvement is inherent to Appscope's strategy. The company complements this with daily audits to ensure its listed apps are continuously relevant. Unger believes that its collecting and encouraging high-quality PWA development positions it to attract more users from a broader audience. This, he thinks, further motivates developers.

Reaching the masses

Unger acknowledges that Microsoft and Google have done a great job developing the technology needed for PWA's (like the service workers that enable offline functionality). He believes, however, that now the PWA market must reach the audience beyond developers. Appscope's platform-independent discovery service, for a platform-independent apps, for an audience that uses multiple platforms, Unger believes, is just the tool, the PWA ecosystem needs to grow.

Unger believes that Microsoft will benefit from the increased and broader interest in PWAs Appscope is attempting to generate. Unlike Google that will be merely advancing its web-based computing strategy through PWAs, the technology for Microsoft, is critical to closing its infamous app gap.

Unger acknowledges that PWA's are the "great equalizer." Of course, some apps like social networks and content-focused apps make better PWAs than more hardware intensive applications, such as games. Still, Microsoft enthusiasts are looking toward PWAs as one of the tools in Microsofts app-gap-shrinking toolbox, (along with Project Centennial, Xamarin and others) to help make devices like Microsoft's Centaurus and Project Andromeda more relevant.

Why Google may benefit from PWAs more than Microsoft

Scoping out the future

As we approach the end of 2018, all major browsers and platforms now support PWAs. Windows 10 even natively supports PWAs. "We believe that PWAs are ready for mainstream adoption and hope 2019 will be the start of a growth period. We hope to not only benefit from but also to contribute to the industry growth. As the go-to place for finding PWAs, we expect to attract both more developers and users," says Unger.

Appscope started with 47 apps in April, hopes to reach 300 by year-end and expects to add 1,000 (though they hope for more) in 2019. The company is facing an uphill battle against competitors like PWA Directory, PWA.rocks and Outweb, a general lack of PWA awareness, a modest 25,000 monthly visitors, and the stigma bad PWA experiences has left many users feeling skeptical. Still, whatever the future holds for Appscope PWA's seem to be an inevitable part of our always-connected personal computing future.

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!

11 Comments
  • It'll be interesting to see how this unfolds. For now... PWAs kinda suck. Yeah there's Starbucks, Instagram, and Twitter, but it's gotta long...……. way to go. I'm calling 2025.
  • The biggest obstacle hampering PWA adoption is the entire premise itself as it will take a very long time for the infrastructure to enable greater functionality for PWAs. Until then they will be confined to elements that are suited for PWAs - Social media, content consumption and banking. Beyond that for anything remotely complex such as editing suites and games - as these require hardware based acceleration etc therefore makes little sense to use PWA for games and complex suite of applications. Plus other factors, such as constant and high bandwidth required to actually make PWAs viable for complex scenarios - otherwise you're still better off creating native applications. Plus constantly downloading and uploading data also eats battery life and CPU cycles... Hence the low adoption of PWAs. The technology is there to enable 5G or the ilk but the infrastructure is not and given how long it took 4g to even become mainstream (especially the current requirement of microtowers for 5G to be in close proximity to the end user to ensure reliable connectivity - not to mention the blackspots caused as that is impractical - unless every lamp post and tree is attached with microtowers - which also is a not cost effective solution - therefore will probably go the way of Wimax). It will be a looong while yet and let's not forget the stint with WiMax before the current implementation of 4G.
  • “and regular consumers are blissfully unaware PWAs exist” Of course. Why should they be aware of such details? Most people don’t know -or even care - what “software” is. It makes no difference if an app is written in Java, VB or COBOL. Does the app do what it claims to do? Does it have good reviews? Free, or low priced? Android version and iOS version? Looks good, does not crash? Done and done. That’s all that 95% of users need to know. No one is thinking “oooh I must find some PWAs, so I can help close the app gap for Microsoft”. I have not seen this level of programming hype since Java in the late 90s. People were actually claiming that entire office suites would be written in Java. Using Java was supposed to mean “write once, run everywhere”. Uh huh, we all know how THAT turned out. It became “write once, test and debug everywhere”. Or maybe some people today don’t know. Those who don’t understand the past are doomed to repeat it.
  • Have no idea why Microsoft isn't preaching Xamarin.Forms from the rooftops (alongside the FREE Syncfusion UI controls licensing for small companies https://www.syncfusion.com/products/communitylicense)? Xamarin.Forms is a way better solution than either UWP or PWA, when paired with the Syncfusion controls... as it is truly cross platform, but maintains the rich UI of OS targeted app development. Sadly ever since buying Xamarin, Microsoft is doing their usual radio silence act. Trying to assimilate Xamarin, rebrand it, rather than maintain its uniqueness. Rather than going all BORG on it, they should decouple Xamarin Studio from Visual Studio, and start evangelizing the Xamarin brand as loudly as they possibly can at every possible chance. For starters, BUILD 2019 should be 80% devoted to rebuilding the Xamarin brand with Xamarin Studio + Xamarin.Forms + Syncfusion and 20% devoted to PWA.
  • Windows phone fans are desperate for pwa's success, but its a long way to go, apps are here to stay. MS screwed up UWP strategy.
  • UWP is dead. Even MS is no longer using it. Win32/Win64 IS the “Universal Windows Platform”. UWP became pointless when Microsoft gave up on phones. Yes, apps ARE here to stay. As far as phone users are concerned (and, let’s face it, phone users are all that matter these days), Websites are so 2005. There is a reason why every tv/radio commercial no longer says “visit our website”. They now say “download our app”. Plus, with a real app, you get the benefits of using all the power/functionality of the underlying OS. Not just the browser. Developers like apps because they only need 2 versions. Why should they create a third version? What if separate versions are needed for different browsers? THAT is reason for Opera and Edge both switching to Chromium. If PWAs get written at all, they are going to target Chrome and Safari. Nothing else has enough share to warrant the testing effort. Now, Edge and Opera have a chance of remaining relevant. Assuming, of course, that PWAs take off.
  • Agree with @techiez that Windows fans are desperate, clinging pathetically to PWA as some kind of saviour of Windows mobile. Not to say that PWAs won't have an impact eventually, the way Web apps (HTML5, CSS, jQuery) in the enterprise have all but replaced .net, java, cobol, but we're looking at maybe a full decade or two before that happens. Mobile apps are made by a completely different type of developer than an enterprise app. The major uptakers of PWA will be large companies who make apps that are merely glorified web sites to begin with... Starbucks... Instagram... Twitter... Facebook... Subway... Microsoft is foolish to put all their eggs in the PWA basket. They're much better off rallying behind Xamarin... the company they paid BILLIONS for because of its cross-platform Xamarin.Forms capabilities. But instead of proudly displaying their trophy for all to see... they've ridiculously "assimilated" Xamarin Studio into legacy-ware Visual Studio. ******* off a once thriving community of devs. Turning a cool upstart into a fat old ****.
  • Nope. Win32 is lacking in a lot of features that are present in more modern APIs, like UWP. At some point Win32 will die. I do not know if UWP or an advanced type of PWA is the answer, but Win32 will not be it.
  • If Win32 dies, then Windows will be dead too. UWP is already dead. The new Chromium-based Edge being Win32 is just the latest evidence of that.
  • At least one should know even lightly what they are talking about. Win 32 has full capabilities, for the contrary, UWP do have serious limitations for development. Maybe you could point out real production tools like the Adobe suit, that are being developed as a UWP. The real value of Windows is not and it will not be on this Universal Platform. Would you be so kind as to point out win32 supposed limitations? Because they are not limiting the best production programs in the world.
  • Good article Jason, thanks! PWA's are great, After looking at some of the PWA's available I thought that some of those (Google Maps) might be nice to have on my W10 laptop. That brings up the question that if those are PWA's then how can I (besides the obvious visit to their website) use this on me W10 laptop?