Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Shopping the Chrome Web Store: name brands, knock-offs and no-shows

Melissa Riofrio | April 16, 2013
When I set out to shop the Chrome Web Store, I wasn't just browsing for fun. The The Chromebook Pixel's many charms had lured me toward Google's Web-centric Chrome OS, but I needed to know whether it offered an ecosystem I could live with long-term--especially since I'd be leaving behind all the Windows applications I've used for years. The Chromebook's popularity has only increased over the past year, so I couldn't be the only Windows user with a wandering eye.

Crummy: Chaotic app experience

The real danger may lurk in the chaos of app store. It's not just that some of the apps are simply bookmarks to Web sites--although this can be surprising, even when you remember that Chrome apps are expressly designed to live on the Web. As one PCWorld colleague and Chrome OS aficionado said, "If you can't deal with the fact that most 'apps' are actually Web sites, then Chrome OS probably isn't for you."

And it's not even that many of the apps are little rinky-dink things that hardly seem worth the bother. You can find those worthless trinkets in any app marketplace.

What really flummoxed me was how hard it can be to find the official versions of popular Web sites. If they exist at all, they often must compete with a crowd of third-party apps with the same or a similar name. I'm not knocking the legitimate apps, which can improve a web site's stock experience with a Chrome-specific viewer or better interface. But other apps, unfortunately, simply co-opt a site's name to get you to look at an ad-ridden version of the online property.

Let's take Wikipedia as an example. Searching for it in the Chrome Web Store yields a long list of apps with Wikipedia in the name.

The app at the top, Wikipedia Instant, sure seems popular, with more than 23,000 users, and a big green checkmark highlighted it. But when it launches, all that appears is a nearly blank page with ads on either side. The real Wikipedia is a nonprofit site with no advertising.

Where was the real Wikipedia? I found it a few items down on the list, also with a green checkmark, but with only 215 users. This was the app that I wanted, but somehow, a clearly inferior unofficial version had ended up the winner in the app popularity contest.

I found a similar situation with Reddit: eight apps had Reddit in their names. The most popular app, called "reddit," was just a link to Reddit's Web page, but it had 12,422 users. One called "Minimal Reddit" offered a colorful alternative interface and had 743 users. I had to search hard for the official, trademarked Reddit Chrome app, which had just 17 users.

Classy: Authentic Chrome OS apps

It's too bad that it's so easy to get lost in the Chrome app weeds, because some great stuff is out there. Real Reddit is fine, but I preferred another app called Reditr Beta, as it offered a TweetDeck-like design and a much slicker look.

My favorite Chrome app, for The New York Times, is also much more than just a recap of the Web site. It has a wide and easy layout for browsing, and right-hand navigation for getting to specific sections. It's touch-enabled, so I can swipe the screen from my Chromebook Pixel if I want to. I enjoy this version much more than the standard browser view.


Previous Page  1  2  3  4  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.