More offline Chrome apps arrive: Chrome Web Store previews Packaged Apps

Chrome OS apps

Moving forward with plans for mature offline web apps, Google announced Wednesday that it is previewing Packaged Apps in the Chrome Web Store. At this time only folks using the developer channel of Chrome OS or the Chrome browser for Windows can see the apps directly by searching the Chrome Web Store, which are broken out into their own “Apps” category.

Packaged Apps description

Although Google is just getting started with these, the concept adds a much wider range of capability for web apps written in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Currently, most of these web apps are Chrome extensions, which are comprised of just enough code to run in a browser with an online connection.

Packaged Apps, however, look and behave like a traditional application because unlike extensions, they contain all of the code needed to run. That means some, if not all, functionality works offline. Note that these are also different apps from what Google calls Native Client, or NaCl, apps: Those are truly native apps written in standard programming languages with HTML wrapped around them.

I’m not currently using the developer channel of Chrome OS on my Pixel, so I haven’t tested any of the previewed Packaged Apps yet. But I plan to soon. I’ve been playing SparkChess, an HD 3D chess game that has computer opponents. Instead of playing solely online, the SparkChess packaged app fully supports offline use. The obvious upside is that my Chromebook Pixel isn’t “just a browser” any more.

SparkChess web app

For now, the Packaged App preview is really intended for developers to test out their app’s installation process and such; that’s why only users on the Chrome dev channel can see them. Google hasn’t yet given a timetable for widespread Packaged App support on the stable channels, so perhaps we’ll hear more details in two weeks; we’ll be reporting live from the Google I/O Developer event in San Francisco.

Also: stay tuned to our weekly GigaOM Chrome Show podcast as we’re looking to dive deeper into the Packaged Apps v. Native Client apps comparison in an upcoming episode.

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