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Summary:

While Google moves onto Apple’s turf by launching a Chrome OS store for apps, many of which cost money and only work properly if they run in Google’s browser, some companies such as Twitter are instead spending their time and resources making their websites more app-like.

Twitter rdio integration

Twitter launched a number of new features for its website today that allow more companies to embed their content in the site’s right-hand media pane, making the site feel even more “app-like.” Coincidentally enough, while Twitter was making this announcement Google was launching Chrome OS, and talking about all the great apps that users can download from the Chrome store — many of which cost money to download and have features that don’t work fully unless you are using a Chrome browser or the Chrome OS. One is about the web and the other is about apps.

Obviously, Twitter has apps too — it has an iPhone ( aapl) app, an iPad app and an Android app, and may even be working on a Chrome OS app. But the company has also been spending a lot of time and resources on its website and adding new features to it, including the ability to embed Slideshare presentatations, Instagram photos, iTunes links shared via Ping, YouTube videos, Rdio tunes and other multimedia content. The new version of the site (which is still being rolled out to users) even feels app-like in the way content slides out into the media pane. But you don’t have to download it and you don’t have to pay for it.

The features that Google’s Chrome OS apps have to offer are nice as well, and the user interface in many cases is very slick, but they still represent new apps that users have to find and download from a new app store, just as they have to download apps for their iPads or iPhones, or their Android devices. Everyone seems to want to have an app or an app store — even Mozilla is apparently developing one — in part because of the monetization potential that many see, not just from users paying to download the application, but also from in-app purchases or subscriptions or upgrades.

So what happened to just using the Internet and the regular web? The father of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, wrote recently in Scientific American about the rise of the walled-garden approach to applications, and his concern about how users are being restricted by proprietary platforms, with limited abilities to link or share content, both of which are at the heart of the web’s power — and he is right to be concerned. In some ways, the web seems to be getting subsumed by a flurry of different platforms and app stores.

One of the powerful things about HTML5, as Google CEO Eric Schmidt noted in his talk following the Chrome OS launch, is that it allows developers to produce rich, interactive websites that look and feel like applications. So why don’t more companies take the approach that Twitter is taking, and develop better websites instead of focusing on building apps for a dozen different stores? Obviously apps have a number of benefits — monetization through downloads being one of them — but there are a ton of benefits to just having a better website as well, and one is that anyone can use it without having to pay for it.

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  1. Edwin Khodabakchian Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    The apps vs. better web is going to be an interesting battle to watch.

    As you point out, it is a multi-dimension problem.

    == Dimension #1: Usability/User experience.
    On the desktop, HTML5 is definitely the way to go because more memory and faster CPU means that you do not have to compromise between standard development and smoother experience.
    On the mobile, we are 6-9 months away from the tipping point. Games excluded, iPhone 4+iOS 4 and Android 2.2/2.3 are almost reaching the point where developers can build native like applications using HTML5. With the next generation, this will become a no brainer.

    == Dimension #2: Monetization
    As you point out in your article, developers want to experiment with apps with the hope that web stores will be able to replicate the monetization model of the Apple iOS app store. I do not think that this model will fly but it needs to be tested.

    == Dimension #3: discoverability
    This is to me the most interesting aspect of web stores: they provide an environment where users can discover and learn about different web sites (wrapped into a “web apps” using a tiny descriptor so that they can be cataloged, reviewed, etc.. Here is a link to a tweet from John Lilly, ex-CEO of mozilla, which describes it well:

    Last but not least the current app model we are seeing is pretty crude. The web app concept will become really interesting when applications will be able to interact with each other. Windows had OLE and DDE, Android has a very interesting Activity model. This piece of the puzzle does not exist yet on the web yet but is really key to delivering the promise for ChromeOS and driving the convergence of Chrome and Android…so the next 2 years are going to be fascinating!!!

    Happy Holidays Matthew!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Edwin. Very good points as usual.

    2. good points, I wanted to ‘like’ this comment, but no option for that :(

  2. Chrome web apps (sites) you buy from their store only work in Chrome? Why shouldn’t they work in any standards compliant (html5) browser? Surely I should be able to log into my gmail account from Safari and use the apps/sites from google’s “web store”? If not, I call shenanigans on “open”.

    1. You can use the apps in any compliant web browser — but as I understand it, certain caching functions and other features won’t be available unless you use Chrome and/or the Chrome OS

  3. Important point not to be missed, is that applications as they stand today, do not really provide that much default analytical information as the web today.

    This very valuable when targetting of consumers takes place, especially those who frequently use multiple platforms for accessing the same page.

  4. The top paid ‘app’ on the Chrome Web Store is a Toddler Tunes jukebox that appears to be nothing more than a crummy Flash based website. Most other ‘apps’ seem to be a simplified re-packaging of existing websites.

    Absolutely absurd. This isn’t an ‘app store’ but rather just another monetization stream.

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