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Summary:

Two high-profile apps launched on Google Chrome this week as Packaged Apps. Pocket and Wunderlist don’t need to run in the browser now and they illustrate why Google Chrome is more of a platform than just a browser.

Wunderlist chrome app

Google’s effort to build up another app store is showing early signs of life with two high-profile titles debuting this week: both Pocket and Wunderlist are in the Chrome Web Store. These two apps — which I highly recommend — already existed as browser-based web apps and both have mobile versions of their software for most smartphone and tablet platforms. The new apps, however, are what Google calls Packaged Apps, and they run outside of the browser on any computer with Chrome installed as well as on Google Chrome OS devices.

What does this look like? Here’s a screenshot of the two applications on my Chromebook Pixel. Instead of running as a web extension or a web page, you can see that they are apps that are essentially native to the Chrome framework:

Pocket and Wunderlist apps

Both apps work offline just like traditional software. That means I can sync web articles I’ve saved for offline reading in Pocket and browse the content without a data connection on my Pixel. Or I can review and update my task list in Wunderlist while away from the web. I can resize them, move them around, minimize them, etc.

It also means that Google’s Chrome OS is starting to catch notice from web developers and may start eliminating the inaccurate “It’s just a browser” stigma.

Samsung Chromebook XE303The platform continues to improve on a near weekly basis, adding traditional desktop platform features without all of the overhead that comes with that platform. To me — and many Chrome OS users I speak with — that’s the important point often overlooked by the naysayers: It’s not what you get with Chrome OS, it’s what you don’t get. System updates are fast and timely, there aren’t tons of features wasting computer resources that most people don’t need, and it’s a speedy, secure system.

Packaged Apps may be new to many but Google has been touting them for months. These are built with web technologies — easy for Pocket and Wunderlist, which already had web versions of their apps — with the ability to behave and look like standard apps. (For a detailed description, listen to a recent GigaOM Chrome Show podcast where Google’s Joe Marini explains them in full) Chrome also supports Native Client apps, which are written in traditional programming languages and will bring even more features to the platform. And while some still disagree, Chrome is a platform; here’s a snapshot of how I explained it in May:

“Essentially, once you can run web, Packaged and Native Client apps on any device with the Chrome framework, you need an easy way to manage and launch them. Think of Chrome as a platform environment atop a platform. On my Pixel, Chrome runs over Linux. For you, Chrome may run on top of Windows or OS X. Both of those have their own program launchers but as developers expand the number of Chrome apps, you’ll use the Chrome App Launcher to access them.”

The pieces of Google’s strategy are still coming together and it’s highly dependent on whether developers want to support yet another environment.

The good news is that many developers already create for the web. Pocket and Wunderlist have long been available online through any browser but can now take advantage of the new features supported in Chrome to become standalone desktop applications; likely with far less effort than re-coding them for Windows or OS X. And that could be a big factor that helps Google attract developers for its new app store that can run on virtually any computer. All you need is Chrome.

  1. Is it just me, but I cannot find the Pocket packaged app. Is this because I am in the UK, or because I’m using the Samsung Arm?

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    1. Hmmm. Not sure why Simon, but perhaps this direct link will help: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/pocket/mjcnijlhddpbdemagnpefmlkjdagkogk?hl=en

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      1. Thanks for the link, I couldn’t find it via Search either (and I’m in the US). I found the Pocket extension and what they now call “Pocket Website” but not the app.

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    2. Searching won’t find it on the stable channel as packaged apps are relegated to the developer channel at the moment. However, once you have the direct link you can access the apps and they mostly work fine once installed.

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  2. How can I tell what are the packaged apps in the Chrome Web Store? I’d like to look at what is available to be run offline as a separate app on my Chromebook, but I don’t see any special designation for these. The link you gave for Pocket has a green button to “Add to Chrome,” but that looks like something that could just be a Chrome extension that will run in the browser.

    How can I find these apps?

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    1. The short answer is that you can’t at the moment unless on the developer channel, which gives you access to that section of the store. They’re still testing it, you see. Here’s an old article with some links – http://www.pocketables.com/2013/05/download-the-hottest-chrome-packaged-apps-even-if-youre-not-in-the-dev-channel.html Not many of note have been added since then so it’s better than nothing.

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      1. Thanks Furie!

        Is there a direct link for the new Wunderlist packaged app? I guess I could change my Chromebook to dev channel, or does that require approval from Google based upon programming skills (which I don’t have)?

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        1. Dev Channel is available to anyone. Hit the three bars menu, Settings, Help, More Info and you can change it from there. Going back a channel is a pain in the proverbial though, and as the dev releases can contain bugs it isn’t for the faint of heart. You get access to some features early but also all the problems that come with those early releases and compatibility problems with existing features.

          As for Wunderlist, try this – https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/wunderlist-for-chrome/ojcflmmmcfpacggndoaaflkmcoblhnbh

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          1. Thanks again, Furie. I got the new Wunderlist!

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  3. Paul Natsch Friday, July 19, 2013

    Pocket already had a native application for the Mac. http://getpocket.com/mac/

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  4. Might Chrome be the ultimate panacea for BYOD for enterprise and gov and edu?

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  5. I used Wunderlist for quite a while – until earlier this year. Their version 2 had a myriad of issues including syncing upon release in January and their web app caused Chrome to slow to a crawl. I finally had to give up and I went back to Remember the Milk. supposedly they fixed the Wunderlist issues but I used RTM for so long, going back to it was easy and I just can’t give Wunderlist another shot. They lost a lot of people between January and June.

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  6. I am not able to get background changed. I have the wunderlist pro on chrome windows 8. I read where it is supposed to be under the general tab in settings but it is not there. Can anyone help me? Thanks in advance

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