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Why Android could kill Google's struggling standalone Chrome apps

Chris Hoffman | April 6, 2015
The floodgates are open! Any Android developer can now put their Android apps in the Chrome Web Store with the App Runtime for Chrome.

The floodgates are open! Any Android developer can now put their Android apps in the Chrome Web Store with the App Runtime for Chrome.

But that positive news carries a darker undertone. Google's "Chrome app" platform was already underperforming, and now developers have even less incentive to write Chrome apps when they can reuse their existing Android apps.

"Chrome apps" are the renamed version of "packaged apps," applications that piggyback off Chrome and run entirely offline in their own windows. They're the successor to the original Chrome apps, which were mostly just links to websites, a handful of which used HTML5 features to work offline. Now Google seems focused on Android app compatibility, which is certainly an interesting idea — but whatever happened to all those Chrome apps?

Chrome apps aren't very popular

So, how many Chrome apps are there? Google doesn't make it easy to find out. But let's just compare the Chrome Web Store to the Google Play Store. View the list of Chrome apps and the top app appears to be Videostream for Chromecast, a video-playing application that owes its success more to the popular Chromecast hardware than Google Chrome's app platform. It has about a million users.

The very impressive Polarr photo editor, which is excellent for editing photos on Chrome OS, is being promoted on the top of the Chrome Web Store but has less than 200,000 users. Click around and you'll see most of the most popular apps have a few hundred thousand users at most.

Now visit the Google Play Store and look at the top Android apps. The Facebook app alone has between one and five billion installs. It's clear that Chrome apps aren't anywhere near as popular among Chrome users as Android apps are among Android users.

Yes, more people use Android than the Chrome browser. But Google said in 2013 that Chrome had more than 750 million monthly active users. The vast majority of Chrome users are ignoring these "Chrome apps."

The selection is still thin

But of course Chrome apps aren't popular. There aren't many of them!

Now, don't get me wrong — there are some great Chrome apps in the Chrome Web Store. Developers can use this technology to make great applications that work especially well on Chrome OS, where the apps can run in their own little windows and work entirely offline.

But very few developers are actually doing so. Sure, Google made apps for a few of their services like Google Keep and Google Music — but where are the Chrome apps for the most popular services like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar? They don't exist (though all three can be used offline in your main browser on Chromebooks). Most websites and services — including Google's own — simply don't offer Chrome apps.

 

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