Chrome Apps with new superpowers
Google’s Chrome ecosystem has racked up its fair share of haters over the years—folks who insist that the browser-based operating system is useless without real applications.
Google has responded: Last week the company launched Chrome Apps, a set of desktop-like applications based on Web technologies. Many of these apps open in their own windows and work offline, and some have advanced features such as USB device support.
The current selection of Chrome Apps is small, but we’ve sorted through them to find 11 of the best. "Install"—either in Chrome for Windows or on a Chromebook—to get just a little more out of your browser.
Pixlr Touch Up
Pixlr Touch Up is a must-have if you’re using a Chromebook, as it provides a decent range of photo-editing tools with no Internet connection required. But even on other machines, this app can serve as your quick-hit photo editor.
In addition to the basics, such as crop, resize, and rotate, Pixlr Touch Up includes a clone brush, a “Touch Up” tool, and Instagram-style photo filters. Pixlr’s full-blown online editor is still better for Photoshop-like editing, but Touch Up is good for keeping it simple.
Any.Do’s task management app was previously limited to iOS and Android, but now it’s on the desktop as a Chrome App. While most task managers simply provide a checklist and reminders, Any.Do takes a more natural approach, letting you sort tasks into categories such as “tomorrow” and “someday.”
In Chrome, Any.Do pops up in a smartphone-sized window and adds a handful of keyboard shortcuts for faster task juggling.
Even if your local forecast is just a bookmark away, WeatherBug’s Chrome App cuts away the clutter that you find on most weather websites. Within a single pop-up window, you can quickly switch between favorite locations, get detailed forecasts, check out maps, and view weather cameras.
I recommend going into settings (in the top-right corner) and checking the option for “closest weather station camera,” giving you a real-time view of what it’s like outside.
Arguably the most desktop-style app on this list, Gliffy lets you create diagrams, flowcharts, interface mockups, floor plans, and more. When you’re finished, you can export the file as a JPG or PNG file to share with the world.
The app is easy to learn: Just drag and drop the shapes you want into the grid—and it’s free to use. (Gliffy offers online storage options and Google Drive integration for a monthly fee.)
The app best known for offline reading isn’t just for phones and tablets anymore. Pocket lets you save articles from the Web, and read them later in a streamlined view. It’s great for catching up on long stories that you don’t have time to read during the day.
The new Chrome App supports offline viewing, and offers a full-screen mode without the usual browser clutter of URL bars and buttons.
As a music service, Exfm is kind of funky. Instead of streaming songs from its own servers, Exfm pulls in music from the Web, drawing on sites like Tumblr and SoundCloud. Individual users then create their own lists of favorite tracks, so you can follow users with similar tastes. It makes for a listening experience that’s somewhat unpredictable, but interesting at the same time.
The Chrome App sets a fine example for what music apps should be: The window is small enough that you can keep it open while working on other tasks.
UberConference aims to provide audio conferencing with minimal effort. When you sign up, you get a dial-in number that you can use to create your own conferences, along with a shareable URL. From there, participants can choose whether to call in using VoIP on a computer, or dial in. The Chrome App lets you quickly create or schedule your own conferences to share with others.
This Chrome app from Google product manager Josh Woodward is pretty basic, but it gets the job done for text editing. As you’d expect, it works offline, and it also lets you save or open documents in any format you like—making it useful for HTML or CSS. Text’s most unique feature is also a simple one: You can open multiple text files in the same window, and use the sidebar to quickly switch between them.
Beyond WorkFlowy’s simple exterior lies a powerful way to create nested lists of thoughts, tasks, links, and instructions. You start by creating a top-level list, and for each item, you can create endless sublists. Hashtags let you link certain items across the entire workflow, and you can bring in collaborators by generating online links to specific sublists.
The entire app works offline, and you can export your work as plain text or OMPL files. Give it a try for cooking notes, lesson plans, term papers, or whatever else could use a good outline.
Yes, it’s another note-taking app. Still, we like Google Keep for how quickly it lets you get to your most recent notes and tasks, and how notes automatically sync across all devices. And with new reminders that plug into Google Now, the app is even more powerful without losing its simplicity. The Chrome App opens in its own pop-up window, which you can set to whatever size you like.
After all that work, it’s time for a break. Spelunky isn’t exactly a form of stress relief—the game is known for its brutal difficulty—but it provides endless challenge with randomly generated levels, which require mastery instead of memorization.
The HTML5 version is the old, retro version of Spelunky, but if you’ve become a Spelunky addict (and aren’t shackled to a Chromebook), you can upgrade to the finely polished Xbox 360 or PC versions.
The best Chrome app experiments
Google I/O 2013 was Ground Zero for Chrome developers, a place for them to show off their coolest and most outrageous app imaginings. We cruised the Chrome Experiments library and found these 15 wonders.