Google has two computer operating systems: Chrome and Android. For the most part, these are separate projects with a few interchanging parts (like the Chrome browser for Android). If you are a developer, you are either going to build an app for Chrome or an app for Android. That may soon be about to change.
What Google is doing here is making a Chrome app and turning it into a “hybrid” app so that they can perform on Android and iOS and be downloaded from the Google Play store and the Apple App Store. The documentation on Github was discovered and confirmed by The Next Web and shows that these packaged apps may also soon be available to wrap for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X as well.
The way Google is doing this is to use an app packager that uses the core Web app and puts a native frame over it so that it can function on a smartphone and be uploaded to the various app stores. Google is apparently using Apache Cordova—the open source core of PhoneGap—to perform the task.
Google did not confirm the project, but the concept of wrapping Chrome apps into hybrid mobile apps is a simple and logical extension of the Chrome platform. The value of Chrome apps is diminished if they are stuck on Google’s Chrome OS, an interesting operating system with a growing but still small market share. This way, Google can spread the concept of these Web-connected apps throughout the computing world and get people familiar with how they work so if and when they do switch to Chrome OS, the transfer won’t seem so jarring.
While this hybrid Chrome app project is not yet official, Google did announce two new tools for Chrome developers yesterday that will help them customize and debug their apps for Android and iOS. Google released viewport emulation and screencast-enabled remote debugging for Chrome developers that should make it easier to develop and test Chrome on mobile devices.
Google’s Pavel Feldman explains on the Chromium Blog:
While designing your app, you want to make sure it looks great on multiple screens. DevTools now enables you to go through the popular device screens without leaving the development environment. Just select a device from the Console drawer’s Emulation tab1 and all the relevant viewport properties will be set for you. We'll run the page through the same mobile viewporting code used in mobile Chrome to get you accurate results. You also have full control of the emulation parameters, such as screen resolution, touch emulation, devicePixelRatio, user agent, sensors and many more.
To the average consumer, an app is an app is an app. They are not likely to notice the difference of a hybrid Chrome app and a native app. As long as it runs and isn’t too wonky and crash-prone, they are likely to use it if it fits their needs. For developers, an app is not just an app. Depending on what platform it is supposed to run on, it could be so many different things that it would make the layman’s head spin. Google is trying to break down those particular barriers for its Chrome apps.