Home Android The Microsoft-Android transformation is about to affect us all

The Microsoft-Android transformation is about to affect us all


I’m starting to feel like a broken record here, but man: Microsoft really is shaping up to be one of the most interesting forces in the Android ecosystem this year.

As the company gears up to release its first homegrown Android phone, the unusually dual-screened Surface Duo, we’re seeing more and more signs of how it’s bending Google’s virtual neighborhood to suit its needs. And the effects of those efforts could end up having a surprisingly broad impact on Android — one that’d reach every corner of the ecosystem and all of us who use it, whether or not a Microsoft-branded device is involved.

That’s exactly the case with Microsoft’s latest Android-adjusting move, revealed in a recent low-profile post on the site Medium. The article details a new collaborative plan between Google and Microsoft (better known as “The Hell Hath Frozen Over Amigos”). The goal is simultaneously simple and supremely ambitious: to make it easier for developers to create rich progressive web apps that’d be virtually indistinguishable from traditional Android apps in both function and presentation — and that’d exist in the Play Store, where you’d find and download ’em just like any regular ol’ title. In fact, you’d probably never even know anything different was going on, and that’s kinda the whole point.

Progressive web apps have actually been available in the Play Store for a while now, but this latest shift aims to make it easier than ever for developers to create ’em — and to do so using simple tools that’d bring more fully featured, native-app-like experiences into their offerings. Thanks to the new setup, Play-Store-hosted progressive web apps will soon be able to support app shortcuts, customized status bars, and advanced forms of notifications — all with minimal extra effort from their developers.

That last part is key — and what really clues us into how Microsoft is increasingly working to twist Android to its advantage and usher us all into its vision for a post-platform future.

Microsoft and the expanding Android ecosystem

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this, let me re-emphasize: The most important part of this whole effort is the fact that you’ll almost certainly never be aware of it on any surface level. And, quite frankly, that’s the beauty and the brilliance of it all. But understanding what’s happening is still important if you want to keep tabs on the ever-shifting nature of our mobile-tech reality — and since you’re reading a column called Android Intelligence, well, I’m assuming that you do.

So a progressive web app, in case that incredibly bland-sounding name doesn’t ring a bell, is basically a special sort of packaging that allows a website to look and act like an app and emulate its more advanced functions. That means it can run offline (and thus feel fast, even when your network connection is not) as well as manage notifications, interact with local hardware, and exist in its own standalone app-like structure, with an icon in your app drawer and all the other standard fixins (to use the technical term).

Unlike a traditional Android app, though, a progressive web app can run on a computer, too — any computer — in that same single form. And that means it’s way easier and more economical for developers to maintain a single progressive web app and have that one version of their program run everywhere.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.


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