Browser and Play Store on phone.
Joe Fedewa / How-To Geekl

Apps have been a core component of the smartphone experience since the very beginning. They’ve only gotten better over the years, but so have web browsers. You probably don’t need as many native apps as you think—web apps are great.

What Is a Web App?

A web app—also known as “progressive web app” (PWA)—is essentially an application that runs in a web browser. It looks and feels like a native app you’d install from the Play Store or App Store, but it runs in Chrome, Edge, or Safari. You can even “install” the web app to your home screen and launch it like any other app.

There’s a difference between a web app and a mobile website. Many websites have versions specifically for mobile browsers, but they aren’t necessarily web apps. A website has mostly static content, whereas a web app is designed more for user interaction.

A website can be bookmarked and added to your home screen, but it will just open a new tab in the browser when you launch it. A web app opens in its own instance, separate from the web browser it’s running on. That’s why it feels closer to a native app.

Web Apps Are Lightweight

The biggest advantage of a web app over a native mobile app is you don’t need to download or install anything. The web app works inside a browser, meaning there’s nothing extra to download. As long as you have a browser and an internet connection, the web app functions just like a native app.

Web apps are also super easy to update. You don’t have to visit the app store to see if there’s an update waiting for you, or manually apply an update. Typically, the updates are rolled out without you even noticing. Simply launching the web app will load the most recent version.

Since web apps run in the browser, they’re great for maximizing the storage on your phone. Native apps take up more space and download files as you use them. Web apps are mostly cloud-based, so they don’t rely on as many files on your actual device.

Easy Sign In

Speaking of the browser, that leads to another advantage of web apps. Since I already have most of my login and passwords synced and saved in my browser, signing into web apps is super easy. I don’t need to rely on a system-wide autofill service. All of my information is already saved in the browser.

Social media sites, as an example, are perfect for web apps. Elk is a Mastodon client I really like, and the web app is especially good. Signing in is a breeze since I already use the website on my synced desktop browser. I can put it on the home screen and use it like any other app, but I didn’t have to download anything.

Notifications Have Gotten Better

One area where native apps have traditionally had an advantage is notifications. The good news is web apps have drastically improved notifications now. You can use a web app without worrying about missing notifications.

Those pop-ups you see in browsers for notifications may be annoying on desktop, but they’re useful if you’re using web apps on your phone. Chrome, Edge, and Safari support web apps and notifications. However, moving some of my social media usage over to web apps has made me realize I don’t need as many notifications as I thought.

How to Use Web Apps on iPhone and Android

You’ll need to use Safari on the iPhone and Chrome or Edge on Android for the best experience with web apps. We’ll show you how to add web apps to the home screen, making them feel like native apps.

Some websites will notify you that they can be installed as web apps. Simply tap the message, and you’ll be able to “Install” it on your home screen.

If you don’t see a pop-up message like that, you can manually add the web app to your home screen.

How to Add a Web App to Your iPhone Home Screen

On iPhone, you will need to use Safari to add a web app to your home screen. Tap the share button in Safari to bring up the menu.

Tape Share button in Safari on iPhone

Scroll down and tap “Add to Home Screen.”

Tap Add to Home Screen in Safari on iPhone

Rename the shortcut if you’d like, then tap “Add” in the top-right corner.

If the website is an actual web app, the shortcut will open its own independent “app” window. Websites that are not web apps will simply open a new tab in Safari.

How to Add a Web App to Your Android Home Screen

On Android, you can add a web app to your home screen from Chrome or whatever other browser you prefer. In Chrome, tap the three-dot icon found in the top-right corner.

Chrome Settings

If the website is a web app, you’ll see the option to “Install” it. This will add the web app to your app drawer along with all the other apps on your phone.

Tap "Install App."

If the website is not a web app, you’ll see the option to “Add To Home Screen” from the menu.

Chrome Add to Home Screen Button

That’s all there is to it. For web apps that you use frequently, it’s great to be able to find them in your app drawer and home screen.

Web apps have gotten so much better over the years. Native apps are great for a lot of things, but I’m finding more services that can be replaced with web apps. It’s simply an easier, more lightweight experience. Give it a try if you haven’t yet.

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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