When most people think of an “app”, they think of an icon on an iOS or Android smartphone. They think of the App Store and the Android Market, which contains almost every app a human could imagine. They might even think of the Mac App Store or the Windows Store, changing the way users download applications. However, people seldom think of one growing category of apps; HTML5 apps. HTML5 apps, also known as web apps, are a relatively new contribution to the tech world, but they are already proving to be useful and paving way for innovation.
The Chrome Web Store, an app store for HTML5 apps, has made Google Chrome overtake Firefox and Internet Explorer as the world’s most popular browser. It has greatly enhanced online (and offline) gaming, shopping, communicating, reading, and more. And most importantly, it enabled Google to create the Chromebook, a web-based laptop that doesn’t run executable files; it downloads web apps. Not that HTML5 apps are only for desktops and laptops; Mozilla’s Firefox OS is aiming to bring them to mobile devices as well.
If you download Google Chrome and open the Chrome Web Store, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of web apps, the vast majority of them free. Users have installed over a billion web apps in total. So, which ones should you install? Here’s a list of my 10 favorite Chrome Web Store apps to get you started exploring the world of web apps.
My Top 10 Apps on the Chrome Web Store
1. Google Drive
When you first add the Google Drive app to Chrome, it may seem as if it is nothing more than a glorified bookmark, as some web apps are. But, if you explore further, you’ll realize that the app doesn’t have 10 million downloads for no reason. Simply click on the “Offline” tab of Google Drive, and allow offline editing. Next time you have no internet connection, you can still edit and create documents and presentations. As soon as you return to a Wi-Fi hotspot, Google Drive will sync your edits to the cloud.
When you do have an internet connection, you can edit and create documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, drawings, and more in the cloud. Word processing in the cloud also makes it very easy to collaborate with others; Google provides chat when multiple users are editing the same document.
Pros: Because of offline editing, you can now fully switch to word processing in the cloud. Collaboration is much easier in the cloud. You can connect other Chrome Web Store apps (such as #7) to Google Drive. Document editing is simple and uncluttered. Access your documents from any computer – without a flash drive. 5GB of free cloud storage.
Cons: Document editing lacks some features such as columns.
Wunderlist is easily the most beautiful and most efficient to-do app on the market. It is most famous for its iPhone app, but it lately released both an iPad app and a Chrome web app. Wunderlist uses hidden buttons to make it a very flexible to-do app; you can easily use it to make simple lists by typing, pressing enter, and placing the to-do in a list. You can also use it as a powerful task management app; simply double-click any task and you can set due dates and reminders, make a recurring task, add subtasks, and take notes.
Wunderlist syncs your to-dos between your computer, iPhone, iPad, and Android device, so you can add or complete to-dos anywhere. It also makes collaboration easy; you can invite other Wunderlist users to work on to-do lists with you, or you can quickly email a list to friends, family, or coworkers.
Pros: Beautiful, customizable design. Syncs across multiple devices. Powerful, but without frills. Collaboration is easy.
Cons: Like all to-do apps, you sometimes end up spending more time writing tasks and setting up lists than you do actually completing the tasks.
Alternatives: Astrid Tasks is a powerful and collaborative to-do manager, but it is not as user-friendly as Wunderlist. Todo.ly is one of the more robust task management apps, yet it remains intuitive.
3. Angry Birds
Angry Birds is arguably the best game available on the Chrome Web Store, with over 10 million users. Because of the HD gameplay and full-screen mode, the classic pig-crushing game for iPhone feels just as good on a computer. The game has all the levels included on the mobile edition, as well as extra “Chrome Dimensions” levels that are only available for the Chrome app. You can even sync levels between your phone and computer if you log in. Best of all, Angry Birds can be played without an internet connection.
Pros: Over 400 levels. Exclusive “Chrome Dimensions” levels. Seasonal content. HD, full screen gameplay. Offline playing.
Cons: Catapulting birds isn’t quite the same with a mouse or a trackpad. Be careful not to get too addicted.
Alternatives: Other apps in the Games section of the Chrome Web Store.
Feedly is a classic RSS reader with modern, magazine-like design. You can easily add RSS feeds, or you can connect to your Google Reader account. It has a simple, streamlined look and easily allows you to organize and share the articles you read.
Pros: Connects to Google Reader, and syncs with it. Beautiful way to read news.
Cons: With so much content on the internet, be careful not to let news-reading take too much time from your day.
Alternatives: Google News is similar to an RSS reader, but instead of subscribing to feeds, you search for topics to read about.
Entanglement is a meditative puzzle game in which you rotate and place hexagonal tiles on a board, and create the longest possible connected loop through them. You can play by yourself, competing for a spot on the daily, weekly, and all-time leaderboards, or you can play against up to five friends at once in the multiplayer mode. Entanglement is a game that is easy to learn, but hard to master.
Pros: Simple and fun. Very simple concept to grasp, but a complex game. Mulitplayer mode is fun and easy.
Cons: Like most games, it gets boring after a few months or so of playing.
Alternatives: Other apps in the Games section of the Chrome Web Store
6. Cloud Reader
Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader app brings the e-reading experience it is famous for on Kindles and mobile devices to the web. You can read over a million books, most of which are under $10, instantly in your browser. All of the annotating, sharing, and bookmarking features that the Kindle is famous for can also be found on the Cloud Reader.
If you also use the Kindle app on other devices, you can instantly sync the last page read with the web app, so you can pick up right where you left off reading. In addition, you can download books for offline reading.
Pros: Millions of cheap books to choose from. All the same features as Kindles. Syncs with other devices. Offline reading.
Cons: Reading on a computer screen hurts your eyes. It is hard to get in a comfortable reading position.
Alternatives: The MagicScroll eBook reader provides a unique reading exprience; instead of turning pages, the text is constantly scrolling. Kobo Instant Reader has a selection of 2.5 million books, 1 million of which are free.
Lucidchart is a very popular app that can create flowcharts, mockups, mindmaps, and more. It has lots of features, which unfortunately means that new users will have a tough time getting started. The app is designed with collaboration in mind; like Google Docs, changes are synced to the cloud in real-time so that multiple people can work on a chart at the same time. There is also a group chat feature and a commenting feature in which users post sticky-notes.
Lucidchart syncs with Google Drive, which means that you can create, open, and share Lucidchart documents right from Drive, and you can back up your Lucidchart files in your Drive.
Pros: Maps are beautiful and very sophisticated. Real-time collaboration. Syncs with Drive.
Cons: Very hard to learn at first. Be careful; making mind maps is often a waste of time.
Alternatives: MindMeister is similar to Lucidchart, but it is simpler and is only for making mind maps. Cacoo is very similar to Lucidchart, but it has a different interface and more available charts.
8. Quick Note
As its name suggests, Quick Note is a bare-bones note-taking app. Nevertheless, it has a beautiful look and is very useful as a quick app for recording your thoughts. It offers the ability to search for text across all of your notes, as well as cloud syncing. Dropbox integration is coming soon.
Pros: Simple, non-distacting note-taking app. Universal search feature. Cloud syncing. Beautiful look and several color schemes.
Cons: Some users might find Quick Note too barebones.
Alternatives: Scratchpad is an offline note-taking app made by Google that syncs with Google Drive. It is even more bare-bones than Quick Note. Scribble is a dead-simple note-taking app in which you write on virtual sticky notes.
Who says that only desktop apps like GarageBand make music? Audiotool is a web app that is very similar to GarageBand, but acts more like a virtual old-fashioned beat maker; you drag and drop multiple music-making machines and hook them up into a master machine to create a beat. It includes synthesizers, drum machines, effects, and much more.
Audiotool has a community where users post their compositions. You can listen to the songs that others have made, or you can remix someone else’s work. If you love the music in Audiotool’s community, try the Audiotool Radio Chrome Web App. This app lets you listen to songs posted on Audiotool 24/7.
Pros: Beautiful and intuitive drag-and-drop interface. Hundreds of tools available, and they’re all free! Community has thousands of impressive songs.
Cons: Suffers a little from feature-bloat, but you’ll get the hang of it soon. Google Drive integration would be useful.
Alternatives: UJAM is a Google Drive integrated app in which you start with a simple melody, and then build on it using backing instruments. Beatlab is a simple, less professional music creating software for making simple loops and sharing them with friends.
10. Google Art Project
Do you enjoy museums, but lack the time and money to travel to them and pay the entrance fees? The Google Art Project brings 150 collections of art from over 40 countries to your computer. And you don’t just look at images of the art; you virtually move around museums using Street View. When you find a painting you like, you can zoom in on it, read about it, and look at more paintings by the same artists. You can compile your favorite paintings, and even make your own personal gallery to share with friends.
Pros: Beautiful interface replicates the feel you get in the actual museum. Zoom feature lets you see a painting in great detail. “My Gallery” feature rocks.
Cons: Viewing paintings on a screen doesn’t quite do paintings justice.
What is your all-time favorite Chrome Web Store app?