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There are a number of Chrome apps that seem to "duplicate" a website, by being just a shortcut to some web service.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

They don't seem to add or modify any features except for placing a shortcut on the "Apps" page.

Are there any reasons in installing these? What do they actually do?

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2 Answers 2

This Google Developer page details the differences between hosted and packaged apps. In a nutshell, the main difference between them is that hosted apps are the ones that you are thinking of (ones that display a hosted website), and packaged apps are apps that are more self-contained (and include most if not all of their HTML and CSS files, or resources).

On the WrongPlanet forums, there was an interesting page that describes some of the reasons that a developer might make a hosted app. One reason that Apple in my Eye pointed out was:

It may technically be a website, but it functions indistinguishably from a normal non-web-browser app. Also, turning it into a shortcut strips away all the irrelevant browsers controls so that it looks like a normal app window.

NeantHumain continued on the discussion by saying:

Google Chrome apps are just web apps written in HTML5 that take advantage of new features like canvas, video, SVG, WebGL, and a bunch of new APIs that can be accessed through JavaScript for everything from geolocation to offline storage to web workers for a sort of multithreading.

So, in other words, it seems that more goes on in the background of a hosted app than just displaying a webpage. It allows the developer to extend the functionality of the website, and bypass some of the restrictions that a normal website may encounter.

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Wow, really comprehensive! In short, this means that chrome apps still interact with the server, but have most of the resources (JS/CSS/HTML) already loaded, + allows to overcome browser limitations with additional features. –  kolypto May 11 at 20:41
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The default browser sandbox has a rather restrictive permission set. A browser window used for an app will instead use the permissions granted to the app. –  Simon Richter May 12 at 6:17
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The second quote is a little misleading - any normal website can use those features as well. –  OrangeDog May 12 at 8:51
    
@OrangeDog Any normal website can sometimes use those features as well. With an app you can develop specifically for Chrome. Without that you may have to support things such as IE, causing everlasting nightmares. Progressive enhancement to the rescue. Well, that too has enough issues to cause nightmares. –  Aidiakapi May 12 at 12:26
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I would also point out that these are bit useless when you take into consideration Image & CSS Caching. They don't even allow for independent sessions...basically what real problem do they solve? Other than removing browser chrome, what function do they provide worth bothering with? I suppose they are easier to install than doing it with other browsers but without the individualized sessions, I just don't see the point. –  Michael Tunnell May 14 at 4:22

Here's another reason:

Thanks to the mobile platforms, apps are "the next big thing" and to some users, it is more natural to search for an app on an appstore then to use a search engine to try to find a site that provides a web-app-like service. Some people are used to sites on a browser, others to apps on a screen.

From a non-technical point of view, wrapping your site on a chromeless window and making it look like an app (that, technically, it already is), and placing an entry on an app store, makes it easier to reach this audience. And it's much more cost-effective than developing an entire new app to different platforms.

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