Google Chrome Apps Head To Android & iOS: What Does This Mean?

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Thousands of Google Chrome desktop apps and extensions have sprung up since September, and now this type of app — which works offline by default — will be making its way to both Android and iOS. Yet when these apps first land in the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, how will they compare to their desktop counterparts?

Chrome AppsThe existing Chrome desktop apps — which run as native apps on Google’s Chrome OS, Microsoft Windows, and Apple’s Mac OS X — include editions of big name entries like Gmail, Google Keep, WeatherBug, The New York Times, The Economist, Google+ Photos, Google Calendar, the Wunderlist to-do list manager, and the WhatsApp messaging app.

The Chrome renditions of Google Drive, YouTube and Angry Birds each claim more than 10,000,000 users already, for instance. Google’s online Chrome Web Store also contains plenty of much lesser known consumer apps — such as Piano Theory, the Cut the Rope game, and the Magic Scroll eBook Reader — along with a sprinkling of business apps for functions ranging from conferencing and diagramming to project management.

Desktop Apps Moving to Android & iOS

“In September we introduced a new breed of Chrome apps that work offline by default and act like native applications on the host operating system. These Chrome apps are currently available on all desktop platforms. Today we’re expanding their reach to mobile platforms,” said Andrew Grieve, software engineer and WebView Wrangler, in a blog post on Tuesday.

Software developers will now be able to start building Chrome apps for Android and iOS — or porting them from the desktop platform — by using the preview (or beta) edition of a “developers toolchain” based on Apache Cordova, an open source mobile development framework for creating mobile apps through three software development languages: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

“The toolchain wraps your Chrome app with a native application shell and enables you to distribute your app via Google Play and the Apple App Store,” according to Grieve. “You can run your Chrome app on a device or emulator using the command-line or an iDE. Alternatively, you can use the Chrome Apps Developer Tool to run your app on an Android device without the need to install and IDE or the mobile platform’s SDK (software developers kit).”

Developers of Chrome mobile apps will be able to use many (although not all) of Google’s core Chrome APIs, along with “a wide range of APIs supported in the Cordova platform.”

Will Android Apps Be Better?

Evidently, then, Chrome mobile apps won’t necessarily offer all of the same features as Chrome desktop apps — initially, at least. Beyond that, some Android apps will probably be more capable than their iOS counterparts.

Chrome APIs now available for both Android and iOS include pushMessaging; alarms, for running tasks periodically; syncFileSystem, for storing and retrieving files backed by Google Drive; identity, for signing in users using OAuth2 without prompting for passwords; sockets, for sending and receiving data over the network using TCP and UDP; and storage, for storing and retrieving key-value data locally.

On the other hand, two Chrome APIs are currently available for Android only: payments, for selling virtual goods within a mobile app; and notifications, for sending “rich notifications” from the mobile app.

Not Available Yet: Bluetooth, Etc.

Chrome APIs not yet available for either Android or iOS include Bluetooth; commands; contextMenus; mediaGalleries; permissions; serial; systeminfo.cpu; systeminfo.display; systeminfo.memory; systeminfo.storage; tls; types; usb; webstore; webview tag; and NaCl.

The toolchain is still in early development, though, and documents posted on Google’s Chrome developers site indicate that Google is now working on enabling more of the Chrome APIs for both Android and iOS.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how many developers do port their Chrome desktop apps to Android and iOS — particularly the tons of developers who are already posting well established apps in Google Play and the App Store.

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