While Chrome packaged apps have been around for some time now, Google officially launched and renamed these browser-based apps as next-generation "Chrome Apps" on Thursday. They're still web-based and locked to Chrome, but work outside the browser environment, thus performing like a typical desktop or smartphone locally-installed application. These apps are available to download from the "For Your Desktop" collection in Chrome Web Store now.
With the introduction of the rebranded packaged apps, the company is also formally introducing the Chrome App Launcher for Windows. This resides on the taskbar, and functions like the app tray on Android, allowing users to pull the tray up and find the app they want without cluttering the desktop. This launcher will appear the first time users install a packaged app.
These (semi) new apps, while based on Chrome, do not sport tabs, buttons or text buttons, thus presenting a native desktop app-like presentation. They can work offline, save data locally to the hard drive as well as Google Drive and other services in the cloud, and even interact directly with local USB and Bluetooth peripherals like digital cameras, mice and game controllers.
Packaged apps are also capable of desktop notifications. Google Hangouts is a good example, which will throw up a notification near the system clock whenever a chat request arrives, or when it receives a phone call. These apps auto-update silently in the background, and take advantage of Chrome's built-in security features such as Sandboxing.
"Today we’re unveiling a new kind of Chrome App, which brings together the speed, security and flexibility of the modern web with the powerful functionality previously only available with software installed on your devices," said Erik Kay, Engineering Director and Chrome App-ologist. "These apps are more powerful than before, and can help you get work done, play games in full-screen and create cool content all from the web."
The mainstream launch of packaged apps brings Google one step closer into infiltrating every desktop and laptop with its own Chrome OS experience. For now this assault only applies to Windows: support for packaged apps on Mac and Linux is coming soon, Kay said. He provides a few examples of what's now available including Pixlr Touch Up for editing photos stored locally or on Google Drive, a simple to-do list app called Wunderlist, and games like Cracking Sands that supports an Xbox controller, Tank Riders and more.
To see what's available now, open up the Chrome 29 browser and head here.