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Mobile Chrome Apps closer than you think

Gossip about Chrome and Android merging is still idle talk, but Google is preparing Chrome Apps to run on iOS and Android -- possibly as soon as January.

It's not just consumers that Google wants to use multiple screens. Developers, too, are about to get a cross-platform pitch.
James Martin/CNET

Running Chrome apps on your smartphone isn't quite the app singularity that people want, where any app runs on any platform. But Google's about to take a big step toward that future in 2014 with Chrome apps for Android and iOS.

Google is working getting its Web-based Chrome Apps to run on smartphones and tablets with a new project called Mobile Chrome Apps. Google developer advocate Joe Marini told The Next Web that Google would like to have a beta version ready in January.

Erik Kay, Chrome's engineering director, told CNET when Chrome Apps launched in September that Android integration plans for Chrome Apps were even then underway. In addition to offline access, Chrome Apps can use lower-level system resources including USB ports and Bluetooth, and can interact with digital cameras and printers.

A person familiar with the project said that while developers can use it "today," it needs polish before Google gives it the all clear.

Essentially, the Chrome Apps system gives an HTML5 app the level of hardware access that a mobile app has. So, taking Chrome Apps mobile may not make the most sense immediately, but there are two groups that stand to gain from Chrome Apps going mobile.

Most mobile device owners are indifferent to the programming origins of their apps as long as they work. Google and the developer community, on the other hand, could gain a lot.

Developers benefit because once Chrome Mobile Apps work smoothly, they can code in the relatively easy HTML5 and but run it in the more trendy worlds of Android and iOS -- without having to necessarily know those coding languages.

Google benefits because the 8 million Web developers in the world suddenly get access to Android with little extra effort, a likely exponential expansion of the number of people who can code for the Web, with its Chrome browser, and mobile, on Android. And at the end of the day, Google wants more people using its services, regardless of the device they're using, and that includes developer services.

Pocket's already a Chrome App and on iOS and Android, but other Chrome Apps could benefit from being able to be written for the Web and run on mobile devices. Google

Mobile Chrome Apps utilize polyfills, which replicate an API when it's not available, and the Apache app-building tool Cordova, to port Web apps built in HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS3 to native code for Android and iOS.

The mobile plans for Chrome Apps follow Google's announcement in November debuting Spark, a tool that makes it easier for developers to build Chrome Apps.

If Google can get ported Chrome Apps to run smoothly on mobile devices, the company will have gone a long way to easing the developer desire to "code once, run everywhere." Whether they're as close as they say they are remains to be seen.

Update, December 4 at 2:15 p.m. PT: Adds comment from a person familiar with the project.