One day, Progressive Web Apps hope to bridge the gap between websites and apps by giving the former more access to your phone’s features, but they aren’t very common yet. In the meantime, you can take matters into your own hands with an app that uses your system WebView to display websites in a full screen, borderless window with a few extra features – similar to a native Android app.
There are several benefits here. First, you get an icon on your home screen that takes you to the website with one tap. Second, there is no clunky address bar or browser menu in a user interface at the top of the website, just the website itself in full screen. You also get navigation gestures, optional ad blocking and system-chosen dark mode on Android elements that appear while browsing.
: Sideload Native Alpha
The app that makes this possible is completely open-source and was created by developer cylonid. It’s still in the pre-release stages right now, so it’s not available on the Play Store (although the developer plans to host it on F-Droid soon). This means that you have to sideload the app.
Tap the link below from your phone to get started. Once there, expand the ‘Assets’ header at the bottom of the first list, which is the most recent release. Here, tap the Native Alpha APK link to download the app’s installation file.
Now swipe down from the top of any screen to expand your status bar, then tap Download complete notification for the APK file. If the next popup says “Install blocked”, tap the “Settings” button and enable the “Install other apps” permission for your browser, then go back. The popup will now have an “Install” button – go ahead and tap it to exit.
Step 2: Add a web app
When you first launch Native Alpha, you will be prompted to add your first web app. In the future, you can access this feature by tapping the big red + button at the bottom of the app’s main screen.
So use your regular browser to open the website you are turning into an app. Tap the address bar and copy the full URL. Now go back to Native Alpha and paste the full URL in the field provided. The app will automatically download the site’s favicon to use as the desktop icon, but you can tap “Select custom icon” to load an image of your choice.
When you are satisfied, tap “OK” and then “Add Automatically” in the popup to add an icon for the website to your home screen. Unfortunately, this icon only appears on the home screen, not in your app drawer, although you can add it to the dock on most launchers.
Step 3: Customize features for the web app
Now that the shortcut has been created, reopen Native Alpha and you will see a list of all the web apps you have created so far. Tap the gear icon next to it to customize how it behaves after it’s opened.
Step 4: Use your favorite websites as if they were apps
Now just tap the icon on your home screen to open the website in a full-frame, borderless window. You can swipe from right to left with two fingers to go back or from left to right to move forward. You can even swipe down with two fingers to reload the page.
In fact, you will find that popups or system menus respect your phone’s dark mode setting (although the websites probably won’t). If the website is suitable for this, you may be asked to allow notifications. Doing so makes it behave almost exactly like a native app when it comes to alerts.
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