Google (GOOG) held a big event in San Francisco yesterday to talk about the future of its Chrome web browser and to announce the launch of its Chrome operating system for new devices starting in 2011.
Web apps are a big component of the announcement for both Chrome and Chrome OS. The operating system itself is optimized for web apps and targeted at netbooks. It’s open source and meant to be quick and efficient, emphasizing “speed, simplicity and security.” It’s not Android, as Google said in its 2009 development blog -- primarily, while Android is a functional OS that works over lots of different systems, it isn’t geared toward constantly working with the Internet, but that’s the vision behind Chrome OS. Android has you download your apps; Chrome OS’s are online and you access them with your Internet connection.
In addition to talking about when we’ll see Google’s Chrome-based netbooks for sale -- the company has about 60,000 being produced already, which it plans to give out to developers, but retail is a ways off yet -- the event also focused on Chrome’s web app store. Chrome apps are all web-based, and that’s an important distinction from the way the current mobile app world works, as seen on Android, Apple’s (AAPL) iOS devices and on RIM’s (RIMM) BlackBerrys. They’re much more like Yahoo’s in-browser app platform (YHOO) or something you’d use on Facebook. The apps are optimized for the browser and exist online.
A move to smartphones soon?
There has been some talk in the media lately about mobile apps and their future when pitted against the mobile web, and while Chrome’s apps are desktop-based, it does seem pretty likely that a similar model could make its way to smart phones in the fairly near future.
Mobile apps today are big business right now, and are incredibly popular -- analysts speculate the revenue made just from advertising in apps could reach $8 billion in five years. There are hundreds of thousands of apps available for iOS devices right now in Apple’s App Store, and that includes many dedicated apps like those of publications: the New York Times, Detroit Free Press and NPR each have apps that provide just their content to the user. You want the New York Times, you click that app, you spend some time reading news piped to you directly from the source.
But every time you use an app, you’re not using the rest of the Internet. You’re skipping using a browser, and everything that goes with it: like moving to other interconnected web sites using links, for example. Some analysts think that when mobile web browsers ramp up in the near future, they’ll provide a better experience for users than dedicated apps, and that business will start to die off.
Expect mobile apps to evolve
Morgan Stanley (MS) released a study saying the web on mobile devices will be bigger than it is on desktops in five years, according to a story at Mashable.com. It’s not completely unreasonable to assume that better browsing could spell the end of the app fad.
Maybe mobile apps won’t go extinct -- maybe they’ll evolve. Chrome’s web app store suggests that if the mobile web and the current smart phone app model go head-to-head, and dedicated apps lose out, it might be because the mobile web provides apps of its own. Some content providers have already rolled out web apps for the Chrome app store; the ones that are written in HTML5 apparently work pretty well on an iPad, too.
Instead of the mobile web and the mobile app model killing one another, it seems a hybrid like Chrome is a distinct possibility, provided networks can handle it. Maybe when you buy an iPhone in the future, it’ll come with just a browser that accesses an app store, and where you’ll buy your apps but leave them online.
For now, at least, the developments over at Google make it seem like there are lots of unseen possibilities for the future of the Internet and the ways we consume it.