Offline Chrome Apps Now Available In Google Web Store
May 3, 2013

Google Packages Offline Chrome Apps In Web Store

Enid Burns for — Your Universe Online

A company known for its online services such as search, video, documents and advertising is going offline with its new offering. Google is offering Packaged Apps in its Chrome Web Store, many with offline capabilities.

The first apps available with offline capabilities include ones written in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Most of the apps are Chrome extensions, reports GigaOm.

While online, the apps have just enough code to run in a browser with an online connection. Offline, the Packaged Apps behave as if they are online, using cached information where content would normally refresh. The apps themselves contain all of the code needed to run the application. When offline, apps will run some or all of the functionality. "Those are truly native apps written in standard programming languages with HTML wrapped around them," the GigaOm article said.

One early example of an offline Packaged App is SparkChess, an HD 3D chess game where players can challenge the computer. "Instead of playing solely online, the SparkChess packaged app fully supports offline use. The obvious upside is that my Chromebook Pixel isn't 'just a browser' any more," the GigaOm article said.

While devices are moving to always on status, and Wi-Fi and other forms of connectivity are readily available, there are times when connectivity is not possible. Offline abilities help light computing devices such as Chromebooks and tablets have more functionality when a connection is not available. This can be useful when someone is using a Chromebook on an airplane (though Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly available) or in transit.

Games such as SparkChess are among the early applications. Offline versions of Google Drive, which includes the old documents with word processing and spreadsheet software, make users more productive even when an Internet connection is not available.

Packaged apps are still early. At this point, the extensions and apps are intended for developers to test the installation process of their apps. GigaOm reports only users on the Chrome dev channel can see the apps at this time. There is no timetable yet for more widespread Packaged App support.

To help support its Packaged Apps and offline functionality, Google is working on software that will provide improved caching on Chrome and the Chrome OS, according to CNET. The new update is a "minimal version" of an "offline mode" where developers can test websites in offline modes to see how much of the site will render based on what information has been cached.

Developers need to have Chrome Canary or developer versions in order to take part in the minimal version of Chrome for testing. CNET has instructions on how to enable offline cache mode.

"Offline usability has been a sore spot with browsers for years, and it becomes more prominent as Google tries to persuade people that its browser-based Chrome OS is ready for mainstream use. The internet is spreading ever farther, but it's by no means everywhere, even when technical issues don't bring it down temporarily," the CNET article said.

Google programmer Randy Smith made some correspondences available that explain the minimal version for the dev channel. The correspondence explains the offline mode relies on data in the cache, and renders "stale" data. It's not ideal, but neither is being offline.