Whether you love or hate the idea of Google’s Chrome Web Store, you’ve got appreciate the discussion it’s provoked on the nature of web apps.
So far, a prevailing criticism is that many of the store’s offerings aren’t really web apps at all. They’re just glorified bookmarks to existing websites, at least according to some folks who’ve written user reviews. And if they’re just glorified bookmarks, why do they even exist?
We’ll get to that question shortly. But first, I want to challenge the term “glorified bookmark” as a pejorative. Because really, everything in the Chrome Web Store is nothing more than a link to another website. That’s the point.
When someone calls a Chrome web app a glorified bookmark, what they’re really saying is that the website stinks. An “app” like Google News is the same old boring web page we’ve been looking at for years. Giving Google News a cute and colorful icon on your home screen is like putting lipstick on a pig.
The New York Times’ app is a different story. It’s interactive — you can modify the layout of articles to your liking — and it stores data locally for offline viewing. Instead of scrolling down the screen, you turn the page. The New York Times’ web app reimagines what it means to be a website.
But here’s the thing: You don’t need Chrome to access the Times web app. Any HTML5-capable browser can point to www.nytimes.com/chrome, and the features are exactly the same. It may look different from any website you’ve ever seen, but it’s still a glorified bookmark for a location on the web.
Which brings us back to the question: Is the Chrome Web Store even necessary? If Google is really pushing big companies like the New York Times to create cool things with HTML5, then yes. We all benefit from better websites, regardless of browser or operating system. And I do think there’s value in having a curated storefront, whether it’s for cool websites or cool apps. When I window shopped for my favorite Chrome web apps the other day, the experience was roughly the same as browsing the iPhone App Store for neat finds. It’s fun.
The corollary is whether Chrome OS is necessary as well. That depends on whether the experience is significantly different from running Chrome on another operating system. If Chrome OS is much faster, and its hardware is less expensive than machines running Windows, it could be a fine alternative. The free 100 MB of 3G per month from Verizon helps.
For now, Google just needs to prove that a Chrome-based operating system has enough web-based tools to replace your local software. It does so by glorifying bookmarks.