Everyone loves apps, right? Google is the first to launch a desktop app store (though Apple and Microsoft aren’t far behind), the Chrome Web Store, expressly designed for their Chrome browser. It looks pretty much like any other app store, with games, utilities, news, and other categories, except Chrome apps run right in your browser, in their own tab. There are hundreds already, so combing through the lists to get to the good stuff can be tricky. Here are ten of our favorites.
Click to launch our tour of Google Chrome’s first great apps
The Chrome Web Store is an interesting beast, in that many (maybe even most) of the apps are essentially unchanged from a typical website. This is especially noticeable for Google’s own offerings, ranging from Gmail to Google Maps to Google Reader, but there’s a pretty reasonable explanation for that: Those “sites” were always web apps. Until now, there just wasn’t a central repository of them, but that’s no reason to radically change the near-perfection that is Gmail just so the app looks different than gmail.com.
On the other hand, just because it makes sense doesn’t mean it isn’t a little boring. Of course Gmail and Google Maps are amazing, but it’s much more interesting to look at the apps that are either dramatically redesigned or entirely new. You can keep on using your Gmail bookmark as usual–there’s no particular reason to download an app, at least at this point. Once Google releases Chrome OS sometime next year, users of that new, browser-based OS will rely more on apps. But for now, your everyday Windows or Mac user of Chrome can restrict themselves to the more exciting apps in the Web Store. Check out our gallery above for ten of our early favorites.
Aviary Advanced Image Editor
Aviary is a great bullet point in Google’s argument that the web browser is the modern computer. Why download other software when you can handle all of your work within the browser? The crown jewel of Aviary’s suite (also including a music creator and vector editor) is a pretty unbelievable photo editor, one with extensive controls and impressive speed that can easily replace Photoshop for a large percentage of users. The layer-based editor has more than 30 rich editing tools, and while it is not (and may never be) as good as Photoshop for power users, it is a worthy alternative, one that won’t show its limitations to most users. Plus, it’s free, which Photoshop is assuredly not. Check out the screen-capture Chrome extension as well–it’s a nice companion piece to the app.
New York Times
The flagship Web App offering from America’s flagship newspaper, the free NYTimes app is very much in the vein of the paper’s Adobe Air-powered TimesReader. Stories are presented in a more structured visual format than the web site, laid out in tiles. Each story, when brought fullscreen, uses a more newspaper-like column format, with a nice little sliding animation when you change pages. The app as a whole is more approachable than the web site, but lacks the site’s breadth and, oddly, its video content. For now, if you want to see Mark Bittman’s endearingly dry wit, you’ll have to go to the site–a definite problem. But for sheer news-reading, I prefer it.
TweetDeck makes some of the best social-networking apps out there for every platform you can name–iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, etc–and ChromeDeck, the company’s Chrome app, is a worthy addition. TweetDeck monitors feeds from several different social networking services, including Twitter, Facebook, and (if you’re some kind of weirdo who actually uses it) Google Buzz. It’s a power user’s app, letting you post to multiple accounts at once, geo-tag photos, and customize your experience more than any human really needs to. It’s a great replacement for the desktop software–it does pretty much the same thing, within the browser.
The NPR app for Chrome is fairly similar to NPR’s iPad app, a layout of tiled stories laid in a line according to category. It’s a good, concise format, allowing you to both read and listen to NPR’s offerings. Of course, you’ve got access to all of NPR’s best shows, plus bookmarking, playlist support, and the ability to share via Facebook or Twitter. Like the NYTimes app, it’s a welcome simplification of the organization’s website.
eBuddy’s Chrome app is another in the vein of Aviary: Why have a separate program when an app can do it just as well? Available on the major mobile platforms already, eBuddy is a multi-protocol instant messenger service, combining all of your chat services (like AIM, MSN, Google Talk, Yahoo!, and Facebook) into one nice buddy list. The free Chrome app has just the right amount of customization, and looks way prettier than other in-browser offerings like Meebo.
The Onion News Network
The Onion News Network takes the long-running mock-AP style of the print and online articles and tweaks them for a video audience, in the form of insaner-than-usual pundits, oblivious local news anchors, and sports shows that mostly consist of high-energy delirium. The ONN’s hit-to-miss ratio is better than just about any other comedy group out there (my personal favorite: crotchety pundit Joad Cressbeckler), and an iPhone and Android app have both proven pretty successful. The new Chrome app brings all of the best segments (best title: Today Now!) with an easy-to-use large button interface. It might even be better on a touchscreen, but it works just fine with a typical keyboard-and-mouse setup.
Gilt is a discount designer clothing shopping service, run a bit like the more electronically-focused Woot: A set few designers offer goods at a huge discount (often as much as 70% off), rotated daily. Gilt’s classy black-and-gold design works well here, much more elegant than the website, and allows easier and quicker browsing. The app is free, but be warned: The clothes still aren’t.
It wouldn’t be an app store without lots and lots of time-killing games, right? One of the best is Entanglement, a very pretty puzzle game in which you rotate hexagonal squares to try to extend the length of a tangled line. It’s hard to explain, but this video makes it pretty clear. The game is a ton of fun to play, and can even be played offline–one of the oddest things about this Chrome Web Store is that it encourages opening a browser without Internet access. Regardless, this is a fun one.
WikiHow Survival Kit
Oh, WikiHow, what an invaluable service you provide. Elsewhere on the Internet, WikiHow is a giant wiki database of how-to articles, ranging from “how to stop a baby from drowning” to “how to escape a bear” to “how to escape from handcuffs.” The new Chrome app is a thoughtfully designed collection of these articles, organized by category in a sort of playing card layout. The articles are often educational and funny, and the free app (though a little bit pokey on my computer) is a lot more pleasurable to use than the wiki.
WordSquared is a great multiplayer game that really lives up to its “massively multiplayer” billing. Somewhere between Scrabble and Bananagrams, WordSquared takes place on a giant global board, with everyone playing at once. You won’t likely run out of space, so it’s not as challenging as Scrabble, and you don’t have to work quite as fast as Bananagrams, but you do have to concentrate and make your move quickly–otherwise that great spot might get snatched up. It’s a pretty epic timewaster, given its lack of many boundaries, so be careful while playing it at work–before you know it, an hour of playtime can easily pass.