Skip to main content

Progressive Web Apps (PWA): What they are, and what they mean for Microsoft

Over the last year, the discussion around Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) has grown in the tech media as more browsers began to adopt support.

But what exactly is a PWA and how does it differ from old web-wrapper apps? Are they another reach-for-the-stars attempt by Microsoft, or a legit alternative to native apps on mobile and PC?

Microsoft recently detailed its plans in depth for Windows 10 Redstone 4 for PWAs, the Edge browser, and the Microsoft Store. I also wrote a primer on who is really behind PWAs and why.

But in today's video, I want to answer some specific questions about PWAs, Microrosft, and what it means for Windows 10.

Related: PWAs may be the great equalizer for Microsoft, Google and Apple

PWAs – Who is on board?

Besides Apple, Microsoft, and Google putting support for PWAs into their respective browsers, many companies are already configuring their websites for adaptive PWA status. Here are just a few of the major brands that are now PWA-enabled:

There are some limitations, however, at least with Google Maps, which does not yet do turn-by-turn navigation.

Alibaba, Medium, Flipboard, Snapdeal, Trivagao, The Weather Channel, The Financial Times, Pokedex.org, GitHub Explorer, Flipkart, Offline Wikipedia, and Forbes have also all launched PWA-enabled websites.

Even games can be PWAs. Fancy yourself some official 2048? Head here on your PWA-enabled browser to try it out.

Some major sites already PWA-enabled on Android and Windows 10 RS4.

Some major sites already PWA-enabled on Android and Windows 10 RS4.

Even Microsoft's online services, like Outlook.com, are now PWA-enabled. There are currently thousands of PWA-enabled websites, and more companies are enabling adaptive website controls with Service Workers to meet compatibility.

Pinterest wrote a detailed blog post about its experience in switching to a PWA-enabled website, which is a great read.

With access to cameras, offline data storage, GPS, motion sensors, notifications, and face detection and bio-authentication, there are very few "limits" to PWAs compared to the old web-wrappers. When combined with Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP), PWAs become even more native-like with additional abilities.

Trying out PWAs

If you have an Android phone with 7.1.1 or higher and the Chrome or Microsoft Edge browser, you can visit any of the sites mentioned above to try PWA out today.

The process to get the site into PWA mode varies a bit. Most sites require you to log in first, which then prompts a user request to "Add to Home" and send notifications. That shortcut that is created is now the PWA for that site. Users of Microsoft Edge on Android can use the "Add to Home screen" feature in the ellipsis menu to force it.

For those on Windows 10 using the Fast Ring Insider Build and Microsoft Edge, you can also try out PWAs. Enabling a website's notifications will integrate them into the Windows Action Center, just like any app, and users can pin the PWA to their Start menu or Task Bar.

PWA discoverability is a problem

Perhaps the one issue with PWA-enabled sites acting like apps is discoverability. Users still can go to the Google Play Store and install Instagram or Twitter. They can also pin both sites as PWAs to their Home screen resulting in two instances of the "app."

Google has not revealed its plans to get around this. Instagram or Twitter, in theory, could replace their apps in the Google Play Store with a PWA version if Google lets that happen.

That latter method is what Microsoft is doing. Instead of letting people accidentally "discover" PWAs through a web browser they are just adding them to the Microsoft Store. After all, if you want the Pinterest app, your first point of discoverability is the Store to see if there is an app.

How Microsoft will do this is fascinating. From the recent Microsoft Edge Developer blog post:

In the next release of Windows 10, we intend to begin listing PWAs in the Microsoft Store. Progressive Web Apps installed via the Microsoft Store will be packaged as an appx in Windows 10 – running in their own sandboxed container, without the visual or resource overhead of the browser.This has a number of benefits to users: PWAs installed via the store will appear in "app" contexts like Start and Cortana search results, and have access to the full suite of WinRT APIs available to UWP apps. They can differentiate their experience on Windows 10 with enhancements like access to local calendar and contacts data (with permission) and more.

There are two paths to get those PWAs into the Store:

  1. Developers can proactively submit PWAs to the Microsoft Store.
  2. The Microsoft Store, powered by the Bing crawler, will automatically index selected quality PWAs.

That second step is critical. Microsoft is not relying on websites to manually add PWAs to the Microsoft Store for listing. At first, the company will add the best ones to the Store manually and later the Bing crawler will do it automatically.

That's an aggressive strategy for PWAs, but Microsoft believes in treating the web-apps as "first-class citizens" on Windows 10.

Will PWA "solve" mobile for Microsoft?

Finally, the big question is does this help Microsoft at all with the app-gap problem? It certainly does not hurt, and yes, does improve things.

Whether or not the PWA-UWP hybrid solution matters long term for Windows 10 – and specifically Microsoft's next mobile push with Andromeda – remains to be seen.

Nonetheless, if you have tried a PWA on your Android phone like Twitter, Uber, or others, you should be impressed with how native it feels. The fact is, many companies are moving towards the PWA model because it's cheaper, easier to maintain, uses less bandwidth, and lets them hit all platforms without having to code for them independently.

PWAs: What's in it for Google and why Microsoft likes it too

For consumers, it means "apps" from big companies, but also your local dinner, florist, or car shop who just cannot afford to make apps for Android, iOS or even Windows.

You should expect a lot of news around PWAs in 2018 from Google and Microsoft. Once Redstone 4 ships this spring, consumers can expect a cadre of new "apps" in the Microsoft Store, which is only a good thing.

For more information about the roadmap of PWAs, expect Google and Microsoft to talk about it at their I/O and Build conferences in May.

Thanks to Rance P. for the submitted questions answered in the video!

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

111 Comments
  • This was the original vision Apple cast with the iPhone in the early days. They have long since shifted on that for good reason - at least there was good reason until now. This could bring the original vision back. But will Apple back it too? I think the app store is the biggest differentiator to consider when purchasing an iPhone, so I dont see them encouraging partners and developers to switch to PWAs. MS' salvation may be that developers supporting Android will equally support Windows. This has potential, but I can also forsee a lot of developers not embracing this for a while. When I see banks, home automation, and such moving this way, then I might be willing to say MS has a chance in mobile again.
  • "But will Apple back it too? "
    iOS 11.3 gets initial support for PWAs in Safari, already announced and in beta. So, yes. I talk about this in the video. All browsers will support PWA: Firefox, Chome, Edge, and Safari/iOS.
  • What about monetization of apps? Is it possible to charge for PWA's? Also, the quality control aspect, there are lots of junk apps in all stores that don't work well or are badly implemented- will PWA's help, hurt, or make no difference in terms of quality apps being released? Would Google play protect, or a similar service, be able to scan these apps for malicious code, or is that not really a concern with a PWA based app?
  • "What about monetization of apps? Is it possible to charge for PWA's? "
    A PWA is a repackaged website. So, do you charge for your website? That's your answer.
    "Will PWA's help, hurt, or make no difference in terms of quality apps being released?"
    Again, is your website design/execution good or bad? A PWA is just your website.
    "Would Google play protect, or a similar service, be able to scan these apps for malicious code, or is that not really a concern with a PWA based app?"
    That's on Google to answer.
  • In answer to the first question about monetization, on the Windows platform any PWAs ingested into the store can be monetized just like other apps can. If Microsoft manually or automatically (through Bing) adds a PWA, there will be a process for the developer to claim that app and then be able to manage it. For those that are manually added by developers, they can of course manage them.
  • I haven't had a chance to watch the video but does this introduce a scenario where a dev could charge for a pwa in the store and someone could access the URL for free in a browser?
  • Surely they can charge the PWA version if the dev publish it himself. But consumer are not that stupid...
    One thing worth mention, if you wanna implement IAP or subscription for your site, MS actually have a feature announced a few weeks ago. Websites can now request Payment API in win10 through JavaScript.
  • We have 'monetizied' the web since 1994 or earlier. Just look at Amazon :) The answer about protecting you from malicious code is: browsers are already doing that and of course the PWA is rendered using the same engines as if you saw the browser chrome.
  • They will be missing push notifications unfortunately, which is disappointing:(
  • PWA's can do push notifications
  • I think he means Apple, who's doing a half-assed version of Service Workers and won't have notifications on iOS, for now at least.
  • Nope. These arent web wrappers. They are websites that really become apps. The have access to your hardware like the camera, fingerprint reader and such. They can cash offline info and serve up notifications. 
  • Support it, of course, they have to, but will they really get on board and seriously push it? This is a pretty big disruption in the Apple world.
  • Daniel, one question: will a PWA work with spotify or any music service. Since MS burned Groove's streaming getting a MS mobile device makes me uneasy with this one dimension of mobile. btw, how are you so tan in the middle of winter?! Bravo on the beard. Looks good on you. 
  • I believe Spotify is a HWA (the initial PWA supported since Windows 10 shipped). So yes Spotify should be a SPA. I should have asked, I was in their NYC offices this week LOL
  • Yeah great Apple wants to keep making everyone pay but if I needed an app that would cost me less then that's what I would do.
  • Windows Mobile is Dead!
  • It really doesn't matter. Open the web site. Open the app. Whichever you want. Spend one hour. Aside from many other problems you will see that your battery has drained when using the web. So PWAs on mobile? No unless one visits the site once in a year, or simply unless there is no app. And to answer the original question, will PWAs save Microsoft Mobile? No. Actually as Microsoft seem to stick with PWA now it will make things even worse - no one will bother to make UWP and while PWAs will be somewhat batter than plain web the fact that there will be 0 reasons to build UWP as PWAs are mroe and more promoted as perfered way of building Windows apps (at least in many cases) makes things worse than before.
  • The Uber site looks great on my Idol 4S, not going to miss the mobile app at all.
  • Twitter looks damn good too. Please let this take over the siloed app model.
  • tried Uber on my Elite x3 - it would not geolocate...even though location services are on. But I don't think W10m browser supports PWAs
  • Just for curiosity, I tried  Uber on Edge and the geolocation works perfectly fine. Even Instagram scrolls better than the native app on W10M.
  • yup, it worked today #elevatorluck
  • Uber might work for you, but Sarbucks in Canada does not work for me. After ditching their Windows 10 phone app, they now direct users to their main web site. The problem is, there is no access to any sort of payment option; you can't use this site to actually buy and pay for anything in the store. So the PWA does not replace the 'real' app...
  • Of course it does not and it will not for many services. Why would the dev bother maintaining the same features from the native app on the website?? Just to make MS and their delusional fanboys happy? PWAs will be nothing more than a few taps less navigating on a website because few to NONE will ever spend time adding extended features to the website when their Android and IOS apps do it all...once again MS does not understand DEVS DO NOT and will NOT give a damn about their mediocre UWP platform.
  • Why do starbucks need an App?   I have not been in a starbucks for years, we had one open here a few years back, I never entered it and last year it closed, but I just wonder why a coffee bar chain need an App.  
  • Pwa can definitely replace lots of website based apps categories.
  • This feels like the evolution of what Palm wanted to do with WebOS. Am I wrong in drawing that comparison?
  • I'd say Apple suggested it first with the first iPhone, which had no apps/store and was a "web app" phone. Jobs saw that as good enough for the time.
  • Did Jobs tell you this himself?
  • No
  • @99persent  Go home troll..
  • But doesn't the (web) developers still need to address the different interfaces of the different operating systems? I mean push notifications work differently on Windows and Android. Same for calendar and so on.
  • "But doesn't the (web) developers still need to address the different interfaces of the different operating systems?"
    Nope. By definition, a PWA is responsive, or, "Fit(s) any form factor: desktop, mobile, tablet, or forms yet to emerge." (Quoting the original paper outlining PWAs from a Google engineer).
    " I mean push notifications work differently on Windows and Android. Same for calendar and so on."
    When a PWA hooks into UWP it gets UWP notification support. Try it right now with Twitter Lite in RS4. This is all live right now for Insiders.
  • You can get push notifications from normal websites too. But only when the browser is open. And yes I tried it with mobile Twitter PWA. A normal app or a PWA on Android is sending push notifications even though the app is not actively running. That's one of the most important parts of PWAs. //Google just made a fantastic video explaining PWAs and showed some successful examples//
  • I didn't think Win10M would get support for PWA's, but suprisingly the Starbucks ( app.starbucks.com ) works just fine. In fact it's better then the App that Starbucks recently pulled from the store.
  • Even on Android PWAs can perform better e.g. Instagram and scrolling. There's a lot of "side benefits" in having your site PWA-enabled for all users on all platforms, on any browser ;)
  • While the impending end of W10M will mean that everything won't come to it, many PWA aspects work now. Some things like service workers have to be turned on manually in flags in the current version of Edge on W10M. 
  • Good tip, will have to try that out.
  • It is not. It's just working as a normal website on Win10m. A real PWA experience is not possible (yet) on Windows Phones. You wouldn't see a browser Window and pinned to the start it wouldn't open just another tab in the browser. And you would get notifications even though the PWA is not actively running just like normal apps. In fact you can't see the difference between a regular app and a PWA as soon as it's pinned to your home screen. Just like on Android.
  • Still no transparent on-screen keyboard for tablet users? I'd think that it's a feature a company aiming the mobile devices would implement from the start.
  • What does that have to do with PWAs, Edge, and UWP? And this is the first I've heard of someone wanting a transparent keyboard.
  • Wouldn't that make it hard to see the keys?
  • Really? I could see the benefit but I've also not heard this as something a lot of people are asking for.
  • Transparent keyboard? I can hear Support now -- Customer: "Where's my keyboard?" Support: "It's transparent, so you can't see see it." Customer: "WTF??"
  • Thanks, Dan. This really helps clarify everything. I'm even more excited about PWAs now. If I could just get them on my W10M while waiting for the (second-generation/post-Andromeda) ACPCs to save me from phones altogether...
  • I wish that too.  If there was going to be one last feature to push for W10M that would be it, would let us use our favorite mobile OS for a while without worrying about missing apps too much.
  • So on windows 10 people will have to use Edge to get PWA apps, so PWA have little chance then since very few people use Edge, unless  chrome on windows wiil suppose PWA. Myself  i do not use Apps from the store on Windows, so it will not make any difference to me. On my phone it may be a different thing, but to be honest  I use very few apps on that. I will stay with the apps I have got.  The problem with PWA is how would you stop the tracking that a lot of sites do?  
  • Your analysis is wrong in some areas.
    "So on windows 10 people will have to use Edge to get PWA apps,"
    No. They will get PWA apps through the Store. Those apps will be powered by Edge, but the user won't see that since there are no browser controls/chrome. Users could still use Chrome or Firefox as their preferred browser for the web. If a user uses Chrome or Firefox and they go to and log into a PWA-enabled site, they can pin the site as an app manually if they enable that feature.
    "The problem with PWA is how would you stop the tracking that a lot of sites do?"
    If the app is powered by Edge then setting the tracking abilities in Edge should supersede what is n the app. It's doubtful, however, if extensions will have an effect.
  • so still using Edge then, even if the person do not realise they are using it, in my view Edge is slow compared to other browsers and if these PWA apps are using the Edge Engine, then they will be slow.  what you are saying that with PWA  we have no control over tracking apart from as you said the tracking abilities in the browser. I think I will steer clear of these PWA things.  
  • I guess you'll have to see when it becomes official regarding the tracking stuff. Yeah I mean hopefully the experience will be the same if not similar to PWA in other browsers.
  • i am wondering if they are worth bothering with on Windows? i can understand maybe oin a mobile device, but on a desktop or laptop I can not see the point, may as well use a browser.  
  • And no one uses social/banking or any website on pc's ?  what universe are you from ?
  • But you may as well use a browser than muck around with an app.  If I want to check my bank account on my Pc, what advantage would there be in using an app to using a browser?  None as far as i can see,  
  • Very interesting article. Does this mean however, PWAs will have the potential to open the door for increased malware if we are moving to web based apps? If yes, how will this work with W10S ?? Isn't the whole S thing designed for use with store apps to reduce these risks? If a store based pwa is basically just a short cut to a web site, won't this open Pandora's box regarding security??  
  • PWA running inside UWP when provided from the Windows Store, as explained it's running inside a closed environment therefore pandora's box is open but inside another box which will contain everything in it, Which is also referred to as sandbox. 
  • "Progressive Web Apps installed via the Microsoft Store will be packaged as an appx in Windows 10 – running in their own sandboxed container, without the visual or resource overhead of the browser." What are the security concerns of this? With a traditional app on Android, in other words, from the Google Play Store, they can determine whether or not the app contains malicious code, and then remove it from the store as necessary. How can Microsoft vouch for the security of these PWA sites, and/or these PWA sites running inside UWP provided from the Windows Store?
  • Edge, Chrome, FireFox and Opera all support PWA on WIndows. Don't limit yourself in thinking PWA on Windows means it MUST come from the store. Quiet the contrary. Personally I doubt many will use the store to find PWAs. They will find PWAs as they visit sites they like. They should, would, could get notified by the browser to add to homes screen. I really wish the Windows team would have prioritized that story. But they still think people care about apps. We know consumers don't care about apps since very few download apps any more. And only the Facebook apps get any real usage.  Search engines are the natural 'PWA store' :) We don't need 8 friction full steps to get to a brand's experience. :)
  • Consumers don;t care about apps? With all due respect, what planet are you living on? Just because Microcrap does not have apps, doesn't mean the rest of 99% who are using either and Android or IOS device do not use apps...PWAs for MS are just another desperate attempt to rise the bar for that junk app store and as many other attempts, it will FAIL for MS.
  • Does it matter if not a lot of people don't use edge for browsing? I'm guessing the average consumer won't really bother with what type of app they're "installing". They'll see let's say Facebook in the store and then push install and when they launch it and opens in edge (haven't tried PWA yet so I'm not sure when an app opens if it actually still looks like you're in a web browser or if it'll be like the windows 10 LinkedIn app which is more of a web wrapper but it doesn't look like you're in a web browser) then that's how they'll use it? Will people really refuse to use a PWA if it "looks like edge"? EDIT: Dan responded as I was typing my comment. Thanks Dan!
  • Yup, the key thing here is it won't look like Edge. Will be just the "app" with a normal border. Its canvas is the web. It's neat stuff.
  • This all explains why WC will not update the WC app.
  • Great write-up and video!  I am really excited for what PWAs will hopefully bring, especially on the mobile front.
  • Once again Google running the game and Microsoft desperately trying to utilize it. The reality will be that Chrome will offer the best experience and that Edge will barely be supported. As can already be seen with several web apps that are broken on Edge. The low adoption of Edge will be the same problem as the lacking Store.
  • "The reality will be that Chrome will offer the best experience and that Edge will barely be supported."
    It's a standard. It's open. Google wants all sites and browsers to support it and are making it easy for them to do so. I'm guessing you don't really follow the dev literature on this. Edge for RS4 is in beta. PWAs for browsers are basically in beta everywhere. It's a bit early to reach any conclusion. It's just JS, HTML, and CSS. Hell, Apple are the ones screwing this up with their incomplete Service Worker implementation.
    "Once again Google running the game and Microsoft desperately trying to utilize it. "
    Desperately? All major browsers are scrambling to add support. Even Google is scrambling as they backed off on PWA launch a bit due to it not being feature-rich enough to replace its Chrome apps. have you really been reading on this topic, or just shitposting?
    "The low adoption of Edge will be the same problem as the lacking Store."
    Edge adoption has zero to do with this. PWA/UWP apps are powered by Edge, but the end-user won't see this and they can still use Chrome/Firefox for their browser. You're not making any sense here, just ranting/foaming at the mouth.
  • Interestingly enough, Thurrotts' article about the topic begins with "I recently discussed how Google is following Microsoft in supporting Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) on the desktop, in this case in Chrome OS..." 😁
  • Very good video! Another benefit of PWA is "branding" and "unified UI". You PWA looks, feels and works the same on all platforms. No need to relearn things if you switch platforms or browsers. Also good for companies cause they curate the whole experience themselves instead of being stuck with a "default UI toolkit" of the OS
  • "Another benefit of PWA is "branding" and "unified UI". You PWA looks, feels and works the same on all platforms."
    Yup. Huge point. Brands always want/prefer a unified look/feel/navigation. Customizing UI for a platform vs. web is dispreferred. Companies see PWA as another win on that front.
  • To add to one question in the video, I've seen reports that Microsoft will be creating a Microsoft Teams app as a PWA. That's supposedly why there's currently no Teams UWP app for desktop. Teams would make for quite the showcase PWA as it's an app that's hardly basic.
  • Yes, Microsoft has already said that Teams will be a PWA. 
  • ........
  • This week I replaced twitter app on my 950XL from store with PWA using Edge and I have to say it is a great experience. I was wondering if anyone has found a way to use "pin this page to start" in Edge and use transparency tiles on WP10?
  • First thing I've noticed in trying to use PWA as my primary (On Instagram at least. Have yet to try with other PWA) There is no ability to "Share to". ie. If I open my gallery and select a photo, edit it, then click the share icon, Instagram is no longer an option to share to. I'll be curious to see if that functionality is just a casualty of this format or if it can be fixed. Also, I opted out of the desktop icon initially and I can't seem to get it back. Going back to the Twitter URL does not prompt/allow me to add it again.
  • Try logging out and re-logging in again. That should do it. re: features, the goal is to add more over time like any standard, so any current limi