Google expands plan to turn rivals' devices into ersatz Chromebooks

Adds more API access -- authentication, Google Wallet, Bluetooth -- for developers of Chrome (the browser) 'packaged apps'

Google on Monday expanded on its strategy to turn any connected device into an ersatz Chromebook dedicated to the company's ecosystem by adding access to several services, including Google Wallet, and baked-in hardware, like Bluetooth, to super-apps that run in its Chrome browser.

"As part of our ongoing effort to bring powerful capabilities to Chrome packaged apps, today's Chrome Dev channel release brings Chrome packaged apps richer access to Google services ... and better OS integration," said Mike Tsao, a tech lead with the Chrome Apps team, in a Monday blog.

Packaged apps are the ber-Web apps that first debuted in Chrome OS, the Google browser-based operating system that powers the cut-rate Chromebook personal computers. Google has been slowly but aggressively pushing the same capabilities into the Chrome browser.

The new APIs (application programming interfaces) for Chrome-packaged apps range from those for authentication -- which, in turn, gives apps secure access to Google services like Google+, Calendar and Drive -- and in-app payments (tied to Google Wallet) to others that call on the hardware's Bluetooth and motion-sensing scanners.

Packaged apps more closely resemble the "native" software written for a specific operating system than do traditional, and often oh-so-generic, online apps. Packaged apps are written in HTML5, JavaScript and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), can run offline and appear in a frameless browser -- sans address bar, toolbar and menus -- so that they look like an application expressly coded for Windows, OS X or Linux.

Since May, users of the "Dev" build of Chrome have been able to view and download packaged apps from a special section of the Chrome Web Store. Unlike two months ago, however, when only Windows users of Chrome could easily retrieve packaged apps, the current Dev version of Chrome 29 also lets OS X and Linux users browse for them in the store.

Al Hilwa, an analyst with researcher IDC, saw Google's strategy as a two-in-one deal.

"Browsers are already platforms within platforms," said Hilwa in an email reply to questions today. "By making it easy for Web applications to take advantage of these APIs, Google creates a larger ecosystem for Chrome as a browser and also as a native platform for Chrome OS devices."

In other words, by expanding its built-for-Chrome OS strategy to the Chrome browser at large, Google is trying to turn devices powered by rivals' operating systems -- a Windows 7 notebook, for instance, or a MacBook Air running OS X -- into pseudo Chromebooks.

Such device hijacking isn't new to either Google or technology firms in general: Google has advanced a similar strategy with its impressive portfolio of iOS apps -- which have commandeered big chunks of iPhone and iPad owners' time -- while Facebook tried something even more radical in April when it introduced Facebook Home on Android smartphones.

The 'Dev' version of Chrome 29 on Windows, OS X (shown here) and Linux can now easily find and install super-Web apps from the Google store.

This article, Google expands plan to turn rivals' devices into ersatz Chromebooks, was originally published at

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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