Native-like 'packaged' apps are Chrome's destiny
In an ironic twist that couldn't be lost on Google, the next step for Chrome apps seems to be moving away from the Web. Called packaged apps, "these apps provide app experiences that are every bit bit as good as native apps," said Rahul Roy-chowdhury, product manager on the Chrome team. "They work offline by default, have a rich and immersive user interface, operate outside the browser, and have access to powerful new capabilities."
The apps download to and launch from your Chrome device, and they will also allow local storage and offline functionality. In other words, they look and act a lot like the native applications that the Chrome OS was supposed to forsake.
While packaged apps may take a while to appear in the Chrome Web Store, they couldn't come too soon for some people. Ben Bajarin, principal at Creative Strategies, Inc., believes the best way to feed the Chrome Web Store will be to port Android apps over to the Chrome OS. "The key to the Chrome store is getting developer support and a critical mass of applications so consumers find it valuable," Bajarin says.
Chrome Web store needs more apps
The Chrome Web store does need some help. It launched in December 2010 with 500 apps, and has grown to more than 32,000 apps as of mid-March, according to the Chrome OS Apps web site. That number pales, of course, next to the 839,000-plus apps reported to reside in Apple's App Store. But it's not even as good as the much-younger Windows 8 store's 58,000-plus apps (per MetroStore Scanner), and Microsoft struggled to get that far.
Of course, the typical user will download a very small fraction of any of these thousands of apps, but a repository needs a critical mass of popular apps to keep people coming back for more. Chris Sorensen of Chrome OS Apps notes that only 14,000-odd Chrome apps have more than 500 users. The app store population took a big hit late last year, Sorensen said, when Google dropped a lot of apps that had zero users.
After my deep dive into the Chrome Web store, I realize it isn't just a place where you get apps. It's also an ecosystem barometer for the Chrome OS, just like the app stores are for iOS and Windows and, of course, Android. Users judge these ecosystems by the quality and quantity of the available apps, and they choose to participate based on what they perceive. Developers do the same thing. So if you're Google or Microsoft or Apple, you know your app store had better be good, or no one's going to want to join your ecosystem, which means developers won't make apps for it, and then your ecosystem could die the death of a thousand bailing users.
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