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:
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.
The 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.