What could Chrome Apps’ mobile launch mean for developers?

What could Chrome Apps’ mobile launch mean for developers?

on Mar 17, 14 • by Chris Bubinas • with No Comments

On Jan. 28, Google announced the expansion of Chrome Apps to the mobile space, explaining that it was launching new tools for developers to port desktop Chrome Apps to Android and i...

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On Jan. 28, Google announced the expansion of Chrome Apps to the mobile space, explaining that it was launching new tools for developers to port desktop Chrome Apps to Android and iOS. Developers now have access to a toolchain based on Apache Cordova, an open source mobile development framework for creating apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, as well as many of the core Chrome APIs.

The expansion follows in the wake of last September's launch of Chrome Apps designed to work offline on desktops like native applications. The new offering lets developers wrap their Chrome App with a native application shell and distribute it via Google Play or the Apple App Store. Among the benefits for developers are the ability to package their apps natively for mobile, the ability to run apps on a device or emulator using the command-line or IDE and the ability to run the app on Android devices without installing an IDE or SDK. Additionally, developers can use APIs supported in the Cordova platform and Chrome APIs for functions like identity authorization, payment, Google Drive file sync and more.

"The mobile move builds on Google's recent efforts to get Chrome app developers to build apps that bring a Chromebook experience to Windows and Macs – for example, web apps that appear to live outside the browser and that can run when the device is offline," ZDNet  contributor Liam Tung explained of the company's push toward the mobile space with Chrome.

How will developers respond?
On one hand, that push could very clearly be successful. The tools Google is offering could potentially encourage developers to focus their attention in a single environment knowing they have the ability to roll their apps out across a variety of both mobile and desktop operating systems. As Tung noted, it basically gives developers the ability to build mobile - and desktop - apps based on HTML, CSS and JavaScript without rewriting specifically for Android and iOS.

At the same time, giving developers the tools to easily build cross platform could undermine the quality of the native app marketplace, Computerworld blogger JR Raphael wrote. He noted that in its early years, Android apps struggled from inconsistent and often poor design, an issue that has improved since Google released standardization guidelines for app design. Android apps now have a unified design language that makes them easier to navigate, an improvement over the years when most simply looked like haphazard ports from iOS. Chrome Apps for mobile could threaten that improvement.

"The Android team has worked hard since then to get developers on the same page – to get them actually developing for Android," Raphael wrote. "And it shows. Now we're actively encouraging developers to lazily port over programs from another platform, without putting in any effort to make them look and function like Android apps? It's déjà vu all over again."

Although it's too early to say what will actually happen, Chrome Apps is likely to be an interesting space in the coming months. On one hand, trust in the Android environment could erode as the consistency of app quality drops, as Raphael noted. On the other, developers could have more flexibility than ever in terms of developing cross-platform tools. To prove the viability of Chrome Apps, developers will certainly want to take precautions such as using code review and static analysis software to avoid flaws and quality shortfalls. But regardless of the way the Chrome Apps mobile launch plays out, it should offer a compelling new tool in the mobile development space.

Software news brought to you by Klocwork Inc., dedicated to helping software developers create better code with every keystroke.

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