Chrome desktop apps move to Android, iOS with Apache Cordova

Google taps Apache Cordova for to help Chrome App developers launch cross-platform mobile apps.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on

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.

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