The Chrome Web Store’s app section was meant to ‘bridge the gap’ between dated web and app technologies. Google is now torching that bridge, shutting down the Chrome app portal on its Web Store.
Extensions and themes will live on. Google says only one percent of Chrome desktop users across Mac, Windows and Linux actually utilize packaged apps downloaded via its Web Store.
Google has also clarified that web apps come in two varieties: packaged and hosted. Packaged apps are meant to provide an experience akin to native apps. Most hosted apps are already dedicated websites anyway, as Google points out.
Instead, Google would now like developers to focus on creating Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). According to the company, PWAs are faster, more reliable and entice more user engagement than standard web apps; they also bring native app functionality to the web via APIs such as service worker and web push.
For those on Chrome OS devices, Android app functionality is still finding its footing. It’s not fully baked yet, but brings a bit of native app utility to the Chrome desktop experience. The issue with this workaround is that it’s often hard to discern native from hosted or progressive web apps, and users often end up with multiple instances of an app on their desktop.
Chrome OS still commands a sliver of the desktop space, despite news that it was outselling Mac at one point. The finite number of users choosing packaged web apps versus hosted also signifies that Google’s move is timely.
For developers, these new moves should simplify the workflow. PWAs are available cross-platform, and can exist on both desktop and mobile devices. For those with dedicated Chrome packaged apps, it’s important to note that Google hasn’t disabled them, and direct links to the apps will continue to work. The app portal for downloads is dead, though.
PWAs should be available mid-2018, so we have to wonder if there will be a hard turning point by the time Google I/O rolls around when it comes to web apps.