Google brings Chrome apps to Android and iOS, toolkit currently in beta

January 28, 2014
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Google-IO-2013 Chrome logo 6 1600 aa

In September, Google officially launched “desktop apps for Chrome” bringing us special apps that were offline by default and could launch outside of the Chrome browser. A few months later, we learned that the toolkit for bringing the Chrome app experience to the mobile world was not only actively in development, but that we were looking at a ‘beta release’ by the end of January. With less than a full week left in the month, it seems that Google has now delivered.

The key advantage here is that developers can basically write the code needed for an app just once and it will then work with Chrome, iOS and Android.

An early developer preview of the Apache Cordova-based toolkit has now been formally announced, which allows Chrome apps made with HTML, CSS and Javascript to be ‘wrapped’ in a native application shell. This shell lets Chrome apps work as if they were standard Android or iOS apps. In turn, these apps can be distributed through the Google Play store and the Apple AppStore.

The key advantage here is that developers can basically write the code needed for an app just once and it will then work with Chrome, iOS and Android (though the latter two will need to use the ‘wrapper’ tool). It’s also worth noting that these Chrome apps have access to additional APIs and functionality beyond what’s available for a typical web app.

If Chrome apps for mobile catches on, Chrome (and Chrome OS) could see a major boost in the number of apps available.

The potential implications of bringing Chrome apps to the mobile world are huge. First, it becomes easier for app developers to make cross-compatible apps that work with at least the web, iOS and Android.

Second, it means that if this tool catches on, Chrome (and Chrome OS) could see a major boost in the number of apps available. After all, if you already did the work to create a Chrome app for iOS or Android, why not release it directly to Chrome and Chrome OS users as well? Of course there are some potential downfalls to the idea of Chrome apps on mobile.

One of the biggest disadvantages are that these apps are dependent on Google Chrome, even if the app windows launch outside of it. It’s also unclear how well these web-based Chrome apps will run when compared to native apps. Finally, multi-platform Chrome apps are much less likely to follow typical Android UI guidelines, which could make them look a bit ‘messy’.

We still don’t know how all of this will play out, but it’s pretty obvious that Google believes that web technology is the way forward, both for desktop and mobile. We can also see how this move could potentially help further increase Chrome OS adoption in the long-term.

Considering the toolkit is still in the beta stages (and therefore likely to be buggy/unreliable), it will probably be while before we start seeing very many Chrome apps make their way to Android. That said, apps developed with the beta toolkit are already more than welcome in the Play Store.

In the meantime, if you’re a developer interested in the idea, be sure to check out the readme and other resources to get started with creating your own mobile Chrome apps.

Comments

  • MasterMuffin

    I’m just waiting for someone to start porting all these great open source software like GIMP and Blender to Chrome Os!

  • Tjaldid

    then are they finally going to quit wasting resources on Chrome OS?

  • lannister

    I’ll get excited when we finally get extensions for Chrome mobile, I rely on them so damn much on the PC that using Chrome mobile can be physically painful at times.
    see: accessoire galaxy note 3.

  • asdf

    i hope they merge the chrome store into google play, so web and native apps will indistingushable and we can seamless experience across even more apps :D

  • Jayfeather787

    Awesome. Can’t wait for the Chrome OS and Android merge.

  • zerg

    so what’s the difference with existing phonegap ? phonegap also powered by apache cordova, I read on wiki it’s not as fast as ‘native’ apps on iphone. can google make this web-based apps run as fast as native counterpart ? we’ll wait n see.