I am not a particular fan of Google Chrome’s “webapps” which I fondly consider as nothing more than glorified bookmarks. This sentiment is well shared across the reviews of many of these webapps in the Chrome Web Store. There is a increasing demand for additional functionality that differentiates these webapps from normal websites.
Packaged apps seems to be the perfect strategy by Google to answer these criticisms in style.
What differentiates Packaged apps
Packaged apps are much larger in size compared to normal Chrome webapps, because the entire app data is downloaded to enable complete offline functionality. This makes them launch faster despite being coded in pure web technologies. Also, the data neatly syncs with the server once the PC is connected to the web.
Why the Hype : The Developer Side
You might be now wondering why the big deal about Chrome packaged apps after all. So let’s assume that you are a developer who intends to create a simple calendar-cum-todo app which is supported across Windows, Mac and Linux. While implementing separate apps in .NET (for Windows), Xcode (for Mac), GTK/Qt (Linux) would be definitely be good on the performance side, think of the time you are going to require for implementations in each of these platforms. Moreover, performance is not of pristine importance in this scenario. Instead, the developer could just write a Chrome Packaged app, using web technologies and it would just work across all the three platforms just fine. This tremendously saves you on the efforts that would otherwise be spent in porting the apps natively.
WunderList 2 for example was not released for Linux natively unlike it’s predecessor. Instead, the Wunderlist for Chrome packaged app was released and it just works as good as a native app even on Linux and Mac. Result? Plenty of Linux users who where unhappy about not having a native WunderList client now have a good working solution.
The Consumer Benefits
For the consumer, the biggest win is perhaps leveraging Chrome Sync to sync your packaged apps across devices. So instead of installing 3 different versions of your favourite app for different device platforms, you could just install the Chrome Packaged app on a single device and let Chrome sync the app and the data seamlessly across all your devices.
Another huge bonus for packaged apps is that the content of the app can be automatically updated. So the whole process of downloading updates manually and installing them to obtain newer features is completely eliminated. This is a win for both the consumer and the developer.
This is pretty much a blissful scenario for Chrome OS users especially in developing nations where internet connectivity is not very reliable. Packaged Apps simply make Chrome OS a much more meaningful platform giving it a whole new level of functionality. If ever Google releases Docs as packaged apps, then it will just elevate Chromebooks as one of the most economical yet most sensible computing solutions available.
A Game Changer for Chrome as a Platform
If well implemented and supported by developers, Chrome Web Store could be just competing on toe-to-toe with Ubuntu Software Center, Windows Store and Mac App Store with some insane advantages mentioned above. This, however will pretty much depend on the number of apps that are released on the Chrome Web Store. Never the less if the quality of current packaged apps are anything to go by, the future of Google Chrome / Chrome OS as a platform look very bright indeed. Some noteworthy examples include WunderList, Hangouts and Google Keep.
While Google is testing packaged apps in the apps section of Chrome Web Store in the dev channel of Google Chrome, these apps work just fine in stable Chrome. We will be out with a good list of packaged apps soon.