Google I/O 2010
Part 4: Chrome Web Store
One of the more obvious lessons one can learn from Apple's success with the iPhone--and not to be catty, but it should be noted that Apple itself stumbled upon this accidentally after trying to dramatically restrict developers --is that a well-designed and well-populated app store is key to the success of any new platform. Google knows this, and is working to establish an app store for web applications, where users could find free and paid solutions in an obvious and interesting way.
"It is very hard for users to find web applications," Pichai said. "In earlier days, you could walk into a retail store and pick software off the shelf. "Since 2004, web applications [have become] the main way by which developers are writing [new] applications on computers. It turns out it's very hard to find these applications."
Pichai used the example of trying to find a chess game on the web. There are many great web-based chess games, he said, but it is very hard to find one that is very good. There's no central place to find ratings and reviews, or gauge the popularity of particular games compared to others. You can't engage in conversations with others are playing the same games.
Oddly, because of the iPhone apps store, and similar apps stores on other smart phone platforms, it's actually much easier to find smart phone applications than it is to find web applications.
Likewise, from a developer's perspective, it's hard to ensure that users discover the web applications you create. Developers also care about getting paid: As an individual developer with your own web site, how do you draw in users and convince them to pay for your wares? You certainly can't afford to advertise your products in any meaningful way.
To address these problems, Google is going to create the Chrome Web Store, an online store for web applications. The Chrome Web Store isn't available now, but will be made available at some point later this year.
There are two ways in which Google will expose applications from the Chrome Web Store. First, in Google's own Chrome web browser, there will be a set of web application advertisements in the New Tab page. This uses a familiar UI paradigm, and it integrates with new functionality in Google's Chrome that allows web applications to appear in special application tabs in the browser.
It's unclear how well, or if, this store will work with other browsers. In fact, it's pretty obvious that Chrome Web Store is one of many initiatives by the company to help bolster the upcoming Chrome OS. Chrome OS, of course, is based entirely around the Chrome browser, and this kind of web app is the only application type that it will support.
Second, there will be a traditional web site for Chrome Web Store as well. This store should work in any browser and will feature third party applications in addition to Google's own solutions. It will feature all the standard functionality one expects from any app store, with categories, featured apps, free and paid solutions, reviews, ratings, and so on. And when you do buy a new web application, or download a free web application, it will appear in that Chrome-based New Tab page as well.
Of particular interest here are games. According to Google, people spend more time in all app stores finding games than they do any other kind of application. Pichai showed off the popular Plants vs. Zombies game--which is made with Flash, by the way--which provides a full-screen, immersive experience akin to a PC game. (Well, a PC game from 10 or more years ago anyway.)
Pichai also demonstrated Lego Star Wars as an example of a 3D game running in a browser. Now, this game is maybe only 5 years old, and would hardly give "Modern Warfare 2" a run for its money from a technical perspective. But it is more advanced than your usual Flash game, certainly. Will this kind of thing give PC gaming (or console gaming) a run for its money? No, not anytime soon, and maybe not ever. But most gaming today actually occurs in web browsers, or on mobile devices, and from what I can see, this kind of thing will prove popular with that more mainstream gaming audience.
The Chrome Web Store will also provide access to content--from newspapers and magazines, for example--using the same app purchase/download experience. A representative from Sports Illustrated came out on stage to discuss how traditional media is changing and how embracing new distribution methods, like the web, is the future. So there was a demo of a live, HTML 5 prototype of Sports Illustrated, geared towards laptops, netbooks, and tablets. As with the Chrome Web Store itself, this product isn't coming out anytime soon, but it was attractive, and interactive, and akin to the type of experience you'd expect from an iPad-style native application. In fact, it's immediately obvious that this kind of publishing is far more important and far reaching that any app that could be created for a single platform only. This bit was actually quite exciting.
The Chrome Web Store is alternatively obvious and important. Oddly enough, I was more taken by the publishing advances courtesy of Sports Illustrated than I was about the actual apps capabilities.