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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.

Now that Android apps can be ported to Chrome in a few clicks, we'll probably see more developers use this trick instead of making Chrome apps. For example, if you want Evernote offline on your Chromebook, you can now just install the Evernote Android app from the Chrome Web Store. Why would Evernote bother creating a Chrome app when they can just repurpose the Android app?

Users want the web, not browser-specific apps

So the Chrome app platform isn't looking too healthy. Yes, it's powerful and works well for the apps that use it — but few services are actually using it, and Google's now made it easier for developers to take the Android apps they're making anyway and place them in the Chrome Web Store.

But maybe that's not a bad thing! After all, the point of Chrome was to be a platform that enabled access to the web — the open web, not just an app store. Chrome itself and Chrome OS aren't powerful because of Chrome apps, they're powerful because they're simple, secure, and offer full access to full desktop websites that also work in other modern browsers like Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Internet Explorer.

The Chrome app platform is a bit weird here, as it's the only browser-specific application platform out there. Is it any wonder that developers have largely eschewed Chrome apps in favor or making their actual websites work better for all web users, including Chrome users that just use it as a web browser instead of an app platform?

Chrome is full of experiments like that one that work well, but nonetheless don't seem to be going anywhere. Google's Native Client (NaCl) technology was designed to bring desktop-class software to Chrome with a minimal performance penalty, and it can do that — install Bastion from the Chrome Web Store and you'll see how well it can work.

But that's the problem! It's more than three years after NaCl came out and writers like me are still using the original proof-of-concept (Bastion) as an example of the technology. Developers haven't picked up Native Client and run with it — just as they haven't picked up Chrome apps. Perhaps it's best to refocus Chrome on cross-browser web technologies and full websites. If users want "apps," they can always install Android apps on Chrome now.


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