Chrome apps on Android and iOS are pointless

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When we talk about Google and apps here at Pocketnow, we’re almost without fail discussing the Play Store: your one-stop shop for apps, games, media – pretty much everything you could hope to find for your Android smartphone or tablet. But because our charter is so focused on mobile tech, we tend to overlook another big arm of Google’s app interests: the Chrome Web Store.

Here, users of the popular browser will find hundreds and hundreds of apps, primarily built using Java, HTML, and CSS, but also with the option for a sandboxed “native client” mode when performance is a key priority.

The selection includes titles like Angry Birds, Spotify, and Need For Speed – really, a lineup similar (if not far more limited) to the sort of apps you’d find in the Play Store.

But now there’s word that Google seems to be working on breaking Chrome apps free from the desktop, and bringing them to smartphone platforms, as well. While not formally confirmed, it’s a bit of an open secret, and there’s certainly a preponderance of evidence that this is where Google’s headed. Compatibility with both Android and iOS is the end goal, with Apache Cordova providing the API hooks.

A lot of users probably think this is great news. Me, I don’t care for it.

tweetdeck-chromeWell, why not? Surely more apps are better than fewer apps, and we’re always talking about the move towards cross-platform unification, like we’ve been hoping to see between Windows RT and Windows Phone 8.

Basically, because Chrome apps were never that great to begin with.

The problem is that they don’t offer any features that make them markedly better than native apps. And at their heart, they’re modified web apps, packaged to look like traditional windowed software.

I’m less than swayed by arguments for the security benefits – I’m not in the habit of running code from places I don’t trust to begin with, and when it comes down to it, I’d rather have faster, less restricted software than slower, less capable apps.

Nor am I really impressed by the Chrome Web Store itself. A lot of that’s because I’m not on-board with the idea of centralized app stores to begin with, but even if I was, Google’s implementation here leaves a lot to be desired. Then again, this might be a moot point, as we could very well see Chrome-based apps show up for Android and iOS looking much like regular-old apps, mixed right in with the rest in their existing app stores.

In fact, thinking more on it, the only good reason I can think of to get excited about the possibility of Chrome apps coming to smartphones is if there were one, super awesome Chrome app you just couldn’t do without, and it just happens to not be available anywhere else. Problem is, while I’ve heard glowing things about a few Chrome apps, those “killer apps” just don’t exist. Instead, the really talented devs appear to be largely skipping Chrome and coding for Android and iOS directly.

So, clearly I’m not digging Chrome apps in their existing state. But even if you like them now, I’m not sure the transition to smaller screens will work that well.

One of the fundamental features behind Chrome apps is that they look like native windowed software on desktop PCs – they lose the Chrome menu bars and all that jazz. That’s just not going to translate at all to smartphones. Despite some awesome efforts by companies like Samsung, windowed apps just aren’t a part of the smartphone experience for the majority of users, and I can’t imagine we’d see it arrive with Chrome apps.

lil-chromebookInstead, you can bet on a whole lot of full-screen apps. Oh wait, isn’t that what we already get from our smartphone apps? Yuh-huh. Chances are, Chrome apps will look and feel nearly exactly the same as the apps we already have. So, why should anyone be the least bit excited about Chrome apps coming to phones? I’ll be damned if I know.

Actually, strike that. I can make a pretty good guess about why Google’s excited: maybe it’s looking at this from the other angle, not as what the arrival of Chrome apps could do for Android and iOS, but what effect it could have on Chrome itself. After all, like I said, a dev today, given choices between making an app for Chrome or for a purely mobile platform will probably see the most success going with a smartphone OS.

If Google can convince devs (and this is a long shot) that making a cross-platform Chrome app is just as good as a purely mobile app, then that’s going to mean good things for Chrome as a platform. Remember, Chrome the browser doesn’t exist in a vacuum: Google also has Chrome the OS and those Chromebook laptops. We often hear a lot of crap about how limited those laptops are – mainly due to a lack of software. Pushing Chrome apps upon Android and iOS could very well have the side effect of bolstering the software selection for Chrome OS itself.

So in that light, sure, there’s a reason for someone to get excited about Chrome apps on phones. But for the rest of us: no big deal.

Source: The Next Web

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!