Google has announced that it will gradually phase out support for Chrome web apps on Windows, Mac and Linux - a move that comes as the company struggles to find a new niche after the apps, which offered unique functions that the open web couldn't provide at the time the apps were conceived, have become mainstream.
"For a while there were certain experiences the web couldn't provide, such as working offline, sending notifications and connecting to hardware," the company said as part of its justification for the decision.
Around 2013, Google introduced Chrome web apps in order to address a lingering problem that Chrome OS was a victim of: a lack of apps. At the time, this was actually the greatest weakness of the Chrome OS. Chromebooks were already rather successful because of their low cost and how easy they were to manage, and they have since gone on to find high adoption rates in corporate and educational settings.
Google sought to fix Chrome's final problem by allowing developers to create web apps that functioned similarly to traditional stand-alone apps. The appeal was that these apps would be universal, and did not require any extra effort from developers to make them compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux computers, since users on those platforms could simply access the apps through the Chrome browser.
The end result? Users got apps that simulated smaller apps in their own dedicated window, offering a range of apps such as Google Keep, Hangouts and Wunderlist on non-Chrome OS computers.
While a solid idea, unfortunately, it didn't entirely pan out. Why? They aren't really needed anymore.
In a blog post, Google stated that there are two types of Chrome apps: packaged apps and hosted apps. Currently, roughly 1 percent of users on Windows, Mac and Linux actively use Chrome-packaged apps. Meanwhile, most hosted apps are already implemented as regular web apps.
As a result, the tech company will focus on improving Chrome and gradually phase out the apps on every other system over the next few years, before killing it off entirely.
By the end of 2016, any new Chrome apps that are published will only be available to Chrome OS users, though existing apps can continue to be updated. By mid-2017, Windows, Mac and Linux users won't be able to see Chrome apps in the Chrome Web Store. And in early 2018, Chrome apps won't function on those platforms anymore.
The company said that Chrome apps will continue to be supported and maintained on Chrome OS "for the foreseeable future," but considering that the Play Store is coming to Chrome OS and Chrome apps are being killed off on every other platform, that future doesn't look like it will be a particularly long one.