Try a web app, a mostly unknown but highly underdog technology

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One morning last week, I ordered an egg and coffee sandwich from the Starbucks app on my phone. Except it wasn’t really an app.

This non-app app is a hybrid of a website and a conventional app, with features of each.

Pinterest, Spotify, YouTube, and the news publication Texas Monthly also create what I’ll call a web app—it’s officially a progressive web app, but let’s skip that nasty term. I’ll walk you through how you can test web apps and why you should want to.

Web apps look and work much like conventional apps for your phone or computer, but they take up less space on your device and are less insistent on keeping tabs on you.

People who create web applications also say that they are easier to create and update than conventional applications. Texas Monthly executives tell me that it has been a great benefit to the publication and its readers.

But web applications have been around for years and most people don’t know they exist. Most companies don’t make web applications either. I understand. If we already have websites and apps, why do we need anything else in between?

I’m a recent convert to web apps and hope they become a bigger part of our technological future.

Because? Because the status quo of technology, including apps as we know them, is worth questioning.

Apps for our phones, computers, and TVs were the right technology for the 2010s. They’re familiar and often great today, too.

But they come with profound downsides, including Big Tech control, privacy compromises, and high development costs. It would be healthy if there were nice alternative paths to our current app system. Web applications can be part of the solution.

Here’s how and why to test web apps

If you have a Windows computer, open the Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge web browser and type in the address bar.

In the upper right corner, you’ll see an icon that looks like three L-shaped building blocks (in Edge) or an icon that looks like a computer screen with a down arrow (in Chrome). If you move your mouse over the icon, the message will say “Install Spotify”.

It will download to your computer something similar to other applications you already have, such as Zoom. But it’s different. It is a web application.

I have more detailed instructions and other web apps to try below.

At their core, web apps are “the web in an app-like shell,” said Rob Kochman, Google’s senior product manager for Chrome.

Kochman and other fans of web applications say that these applications are less demanding and less intrusive than a conventional application.

The Starbucks web app, for example, takes up just 429 kilobytes of storage on my phone, or less than 1 percent of the storage that the standard Starbucks Android app takes up.

For some of you, storage space is not a big deal. But especially if you have an older or less fancy device, your device storage can easily fill up as you download apps and take photos.

And by design, once a conventional app is on your phone, it can access the innards of your phone and look under the hood of your Internet network. Web apps are more stingy when it comes to access, Kochman and other experts told me.

“If you’re worried about installing an app, you’ll probably want it as a web app,” said a veteran technology executive who helped develop the original technology for web apps. He referred to a web app as “just a website that took all the right vitamins.”

How web apps help the underdog

Caitlyn Perry, Texas Monthly’s senior vice president of digital growth, told me that keeping the publication’s conventional smartphone apps up to date was costly and time-consuming.

Readers complained that the apps crashed too much and that they didn’t like having to contact a Texas Monthly app partner, not the publication’s customer service, for questions or problems with account passwords or passwords. in-app subscriptions.

And because Apple or Google have final approval on any change to a line of software code in a conventional app, it slowed down updates.

Earlier this year, Texas Monthly replaced its conventional smartphone apps with a web app. (I have instructions below for finding this web app.)

“PWAs give us more control,” said Emily Allen, Texas Monthly’s senior vice president of audience development. “This is one more test for the future.”

Allen and Perry said app crashes have been reduced by 94 percent and the number of readers using the app has doubled. Staff make changes to features on the Texas Monthly website, and those adjustments cascade relatively seamlessly to the web application.

There are drawbacks compared to a conventional app, the executives said. The Texas Monthly web app doesn’t yet have an option to save articles to read when someone isn’t connected to the Internet, for example.

What makes web apps annoying and unpopular

It’s hard to find out which companies create web applications or find them. There is no app store for web apps, although there are some attempts like Store.App and Appscope. They are not ideal.

Few companies are like Texas Monthly and create a web app instead of the conventional smartphone apps. Spotify and YouTube have web apps, but they also create standard apps.

Some techies told me that Apple has slowed down web apps by limiting their capabilities for Apple devices. The company has said that’s not true. And this year, Apple added iPhone feature options for web apps.

I’m not saying you should ditch conventional apps. You can’t, and in many cases, you will want apps. We know how to find, install and use them.

What I encourage is that you give web apps a try, if only as a way to open your mind to different technological possibilities. We should continue to challenge what may seem like immutable parts of digital life, including apps. We have to keep asking ourselves: What if there is something better?

Like I said, a big headache with web apps is that they’re hard to find. Most companies do not make them for their online services.

It’s also kind of hard to think of something that’s like a conventional app but also a website. Give web apps a try!

In the Safari browser on your iPhone or iPad, type and tap the Share menu button at the bottom; it looks like a square with an up arrow. Choose the option to “Add to Home Screen”. Click Add on the next screen.

Or on an Android phone, go to the Chrome browser or Google search bar and type Tap on the three vertical dots at the top right corner and choose the “Install App” option.

The Starbucks web app appears as an icon on your phone’s home screen. It looks like a conventional app, and mostly works like one too. Just like a regular app, the Starbucks web app on your phone knows the location of your nearest Starbucks and can use your Starbucks Rewards points.

You don’t have to install a web app, but that makes them feel more like standard apps.

You can also follow the same steps for any website on your phone and it will add an icon to your home screen. But if it’s not a web app, it’s just a shortcut to the website on your phone. It looks and works like a website, not an app.

Type in Chrome or Edge browser for Windows computers.

You’ll see in the top right corner an icon that looks like three L-shaped building blocks (in Edge) or an icon that looks like a computer screen with a down arrow (in Chrome). If you move your mouse over the icon, the message will say “Install YouTube” or something similar.

If you say yes, the YouTube web app will download to your computer and work like other apps on your computer.

As I mentioned earlier, you can follow these same steps with to install that company’s web app,

To remove the web app, click on the three dots at the top right of the web app and choose the “Uninstall” option. Or instead, click the three dots and choose Application Settings. On the next screen, click on the “uninstall” option.

Using an iPhone, search for Texas Monthly in the App Store. That’s the web app, though you won’t necessarily know it’s not a regular iPhone app. (Don’t be fooled by Texas Monthly’s BBQ Finder app, which is a mainstream and probably delicious app.)

Or on an Android phone, go to the Chrome browser and type Tap on the three vertical dots at the top right corner and choose the “Install App” option.

You can also do this in the Chrome browser on your computer and choose the icon in the top right corner that looks like a screen with a down arrow.

Try typing into the web browser on your Android phone or iPhone. Follow the Starbucks web app instructions above to install on your home screen. You can also install the Pinterest web app from Chrome on your Windows computers.

elk.zonewhich is among the collection of websites of the Twitter-like social network called Mastodon

Try going to Elk.Zone from the Safari browser on your iPhone. Tap the Share menu button at the bottom (it looks like a square with an up arrow) and scroll down to “Add to Home Screen.” Click Add on the next screen.

Several companies have stripped-down versions of their mainstream apps that are mostly useful for people with less powerful smartphones, even in emerging markets.

These include Twitter Lite for Android phones (not available in the United States) and Google Maps Go for Android phones. Find them in the Google Play app.

There’s also the stripped-down version of the Uber app, which you can find by typing into a Safari or Chrome browser. You can also download this Uber web app.