Chrome desktop apps move to Android, iOS with Apache Cordova

Chrome desktop apps move to Android, iOS with Apache Cordova

Summary: Google taps Apache Cordova for to help Chrome App developers launch cross-platform mobile apps.


Makers of native-like Chrome apps for desktops now have a new set of tools to help wrap their products in a format suitable to distribute on Google Play and Apple's App Store.

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.

Google yesterday announced an early developer preview of a toolchain based on Apache Cordova, the cross-platform mobile development framework that Adobe donated to the Apache Software Foundation after it acquired PhoneGap-maker Nitobi. The toolchain offers a Cordova command line tool, workflow and other helpers, for example, to correctly format icons and splash screens to iOS and Android specs.

Essentially, it helps developers build mobile apps based on HTML, CSS and JavaScript, without requiring them to be rewritten in native languages such as Java for Android or Objective-C for iOS.

"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. We provide a simple developer workflow for packaging a Chrome App natively for mobile platforms. You can run your Chrome App on a device or emulator using the command-line or an IDE.” Google software engineer Andrew Grieve wrote. 

While the developer preview currently allows developers to publish apps to Google Play, instructions for publishing to the App Store are yet to be released.

Some of the Chrome APIs Google has made available for Chrome Apps on mobile include:

  • identity — sign-in users using OAuth2 without prompting for passwords
  • payments (currently Android only) — sell virtual goods within your mobile app
  • pushMessaging — push messages to your app from your server
  • sockets — send and receive data over the network using TCP and UDP
  • notifications (currently Android only) — send rich notifications from your mobile app
  • storage — store and retrieve key-value data locally
  • syncFileSystem — store and retrieve files backed by Google Drive
  • alarms — run tasks periodically

Yet to be supported APIs, such as Bluetooth, mediaGalleries, permissions and others are listed here, while developers can use APIs supported by Cordova.

More on Chrome apps

Topics: Android, Apple, Google, iOS, Open Source

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Does anyone actually use desktop Chrome apps?

    I fail to see why any desktop user would want something like this. Is it actually successful in any way?
    • I do

      On both the chromebook and the windows machine.
      Where appropriate. If a native app is better, I'll use that on windows.
  • Is it really good news?

    I have to conclude that Chrome the browser cannot, or worse, should not, run Chrome desktop apps on mobile. It is likely that it is hard or impossible to create another wrapper to run them. Is it because manual interaction is necessary in most conversion cases? Is it because a wrapper/launcher will not be admitted to app stores? Anyway, this news means that if I use a desktop Chrome app (and I DO use one - Google Keep) and want to use it on mobile I am at the mercy of the developer AND in the mercy of the app store. I can understand that Chrome apps may have problems with iOS and bitchy iTunes, but how do they have problems with Android when they do not have any with OS X? Does Google have more control over OS X than over Android? Something just does not feel right here.
    • I think you are already at the Mercy of Developer and the App Store ...

      to a large degree unless you are going to rewrite applications yourself (and probably get sued for software copyright infringement).
      It would seem to me that offline capability would be a pretty big benefit in countries where Wireless connectivity is not as ubiquitous as major developed countries (or if someone wants to get away from it all in a developed country). Work can still get done (to some degree) when offline and then when you get back online, you the data can sync.
      Also seems like good news to me when something written for one platform by a developer can be ported to another platform/environment (mobile instead of desktop with respect to Android) with relative ease.
      Liam, it would be great if you can follow this up in a few months and keep us informed of developers using this and making Chrome desktop apps more widely available as sometimes the theory is good, but in practice there are unexpected stumbling blocks (API too limited ?).
  • In English please

    "for to help" Ok, who is in charge of editing here? Every book or editorial I have read recently is rife with errors. Did you all fail English in grammar school?