06 September 2013

The Verge: “Google’s Trojan horse: how Chrome Apps will finally take on Windows”

At launch, Google says that more than 50 Chrome Apps are available in the Chrome Web Store. While big-name developers aren't on board yet, the selection does at least show the potential for Chrome to grow into a legitimate platform. Pixlr Touch Up offers basic photo editing that wasn't native on Chrome before. Task-management app Wunderlist is slick and works outside of the browser window. Perhaps the best of the bunch is Pocket, which makes links you save while browsing the web available offline. Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Wow, a whole 50 apps (it’s actually more like 25 by my count)! And people say Windows Phone has too few apps to succeed!

But hey, let’s not pick on the quantity, surely these must be top-quality-must-have-apps for any user, right?! Well, there’s a couple of games, two apps for drawing diagrams and flowcharts, a bunch of to-do apps, a weather app… Not what I would call big diversity. It’s nice that they’re addressing productivity, but how many times does the average user need to draw a diagram? Also, most of these are better suited for mobile and/or always-connected use: you want your tasks and weather apps by your side wherever you go and always up-to-date, you want fresh content from The Economist and the hottest photos from 500px. What good is a reminder if it fires up when you’re away from the PC? There’s nothing here that can’t be already done with native apps, either mobile or desktop. Trojan horse? More like a Trojan mouse!

But Chrome Apps aren't the only major gamble Google is making when it comes to its relationship with the web. The Chrome team recently forked WebKit and created its own rendering engine, Blink. Both initiatives push Chrome into the territory of proprietary technologies. While all this remains open source and allows competitors to use what Google has built, the company runs the risk of de-emphasizing many of the web app standards it once championed. Chrome's chance to be the next great app platform is at stake, but so is its current place as the world's leading browser, as well as Google's own reputation as a proponent of the open web.

Pretty much. Personally, I don’t really understand where plans to go with this. It’s understandable for them to have their services available on any device, but is already everywhere – including on about half the desktop computers – and growing. This whole desktop detour with a new operating system and apps, building everything from scratch, looks like a dead end, an unnecessary waste of resources. It’s hard to believe they are seriously considering displacing Windows or MacOS, Google is about a decade too late to that game – and, with a shrinking desktop market, why would they want to? A more plausible explanation would be that Chrome will morph into a cross-platform apps layer that can run anywhere – an idea that hasn’t really succeeded until now, despite several attempts (Java, AdobeAir, .Net). As such, it could conceivably replace Android at some point – 2-3 years from now? – making all Google’s devices powered by Chrome, at the same time solving some of the nasty fragmentation and control problems of that particular platform.

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