Chrome packaged apps on iOS will be a tough sell

Are those Chrome packaged apps in your pocket?... Credit:flickr photo by twicepix

As early as next month, owners of mobile devices should be able to use Chrome packaged apps introduced for the desktop earlier this year.

But not just Android devices: The search giant reportedly is working on a toolkit designed to allow developers to build Chrome apps for Android and iOS. The toolkit also would enable developers to migrate Chrome desktop apps to each mobile platform.

Ever since Google rolled out packaged apps in May for machines running its Chrome OS, it was inevitable that they eventually would find themselves a home on Android, even though they were designed specifically to offset the limitations of the web-based Chrome OS platform, including its lack of local storage, inability to function offline, and modest number of apps available in the Chrome Web Store.

But enabling developers to create Chrome packaged apps for iOS is a bold move for Google, though fully in keeping with the search giant's overall strategy. Remember, Google's primary playground and moneymaker is the web, not apps. It's in Google's best interest to steer users toward the web as a productivity and entertainment platform; Chrome packaged apps are a hybrid designed to bridge both worlds and draw users into Google's integrated suite of online services, which are tied tightly into the Chrome browser.

Chrome packaged apps such as Google Keep, Google Hangouts, and Any.do were developed in web languages such as JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS and designed to run on the Chrome OS, outside the browser and independent of an Internet connection (though not fully independent; some features require eventually being online).

The packaged apps for mobile platforms expected next month won't be the first to run outside the Chrome OS. In early September Google unveiled a Chrome apps launcher for Windows (which I use).

But as my CITEworld colleague Nancy Gohring wrote back then, web apps have limitations regarding functionality and accessibility to device capabilities. Google's "new breed of Chrome apps" are designed to extend functionality by enabling off-line work, syncing a user's apps to other devices and automatically downloading security fixes, among other things.

So basically web-based apps are a work in progress. Google wants more developers creating web-based apps using HTML5 and other web languages, but that won't happen without more users. Hence the jump from the Chrome OS to the Windows desktop and, soon, Android and iOS.

Will it work? Sure, there'll be more packaged apps users, particularly on the Android platform, which not only has a dominant market share but many Android owners eagerly embrace Google's many web-based services.

I'm not so sure about Chrome packaged apps on iOS. An Experian study from May on how smartphone owners use their phones showed that iPhone owners spend less time on the web than Android owners. However, iPhone owners spend more time than Android owners on texting, emailing, and social networking. In other words, using apps.

But not just using apps; they're using native mobile apps developed specifically for iOS and offered through Apple's unparalleled App Store. That's a lot for Chrome apps on iOS to overcome.

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