(Credit: Screenshots: Download.com/Tom McNamara)

Facebook has begun rolling out the progressive web app (PWA) version of its website, which is a hybrid of a mobile site and a mobile app. Android Police reports that visiting Facebook in the Android version of Chrome produced a pop-up window offering to add the site to the user's home screen.

This created a second Facebook app icon on the home screen, with a small Chrome logo in one corner. It's not clear yet if this function works with other mobile browsers like Firefox or Safari, or if pop-up blockers or ad blockers will interfere with the feature.

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Opening Facebook by tapping this new icon produces something that's not quite the mobile site and not quite the app interface. For example, this browser tab operates separately from the rest, so you can task switch between it and the set of other tabs that you may have open in Chrome. The progressive web app version also hides the address bar that usually appears at the top of a browser window.

The update isn't rolling out to everyone yet, but we were able to get it working on an Android phone by opening Chrome, loading the mobile Facebook site, tapping the menu button in the upper right, and selecting "Add to Home screen." It took about 30 seconds for the process to complete, resulting in a "Facebook" app icon being added to our app drawer despite not having the full Facebook app installed.

This icon did not have a Chrome logo on it, so seeing that may depend on what icon pack you have installed on your phone. We tested on a Google Pixel, using the default Pixel app launcher.

Why wouldn't you want to use the regular Facebook mobile app?

Unfortunately, Facebook's app has long been notorious for battery drain, and it asks for a large number of system permissions, from complete access to your contacts to the use of your camera and microphone. So if you just want to use Facebook to exchange updates with your friends and family, the app is relatively "heavy," leading Android and iOS users to log into the mobile site instead, or to use Facebook Lite if that's available in their region.

There's also Facebook's struggle to protect its users' privacy and freedom from mass disinformation campaigns, which has led a non-trivial number of people to remove the mobile app and sometimes delete their account altogether.

PWAs are designed to be lightweight versions of an app that will load quicker and respond faster to user interactions. So in theory, the progressive web app version makes the Facebook experience better than what you'll get from a mobile browser (such as the PWA tab getting separated from the rest of Chrome's tabs), while not as being demanding as the full-fledged mobile app.

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The progressive web app version can also be updated on Facebook's side, without your needing to download an update or any additional apps at all. That means that you'll always have access to the latest version of Facebook.

At any rate, the PWA version of Facebook is finally reaching the public after months of speculation and rumor, and we look forward to testing it for you in multiple browsers, in both Android and iOS, so stay tuned.

The takeaways

  1. Facebook has begun rolling out a progressive web app version of their website for mobile users; a "PWA" is a hybrid between a mobile site and a mobile app, supposedly combining the best of both worlds.
  2. If you have been deemed eligible by Facebook for this version, you can access it by visiting the mobile site on Android or iOS. Right now, only Google Chrome is confirmed to be compatible.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.