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My First Experience Developing An App for the Google Chrome Web Store
Over the holiday break, I decided to look into creating a CloudContacts app for placement in the Google Chrome Web Store. I’d like to share some thoughts on how the process went from both the developer and usability perspectives. I looked around at a number of the apps in the Chrome Web Store and found that many were just bookmarks to the actual website. Some apps, like the Amazon Web Shop looks like it is a full app using HTML5 which provides a pretty neat store browsing experience. Seesmic CEO Loic Le Meur confirmed that their social media app provides additional functionality when installed via the Chrome Web Store.
One note…I only have experience using the Google Chrome Web Store via the Chrome web browser. I don’t have the Google Chrome OS or one of the new Google Cr-48 netbooks.
I won’t go deep into the development of the app here, I will write another post later this week on HTMLCenter. The basic decision is whether you want to build an installable web app or a packaged web app. You can also publish a Chrome Theme or an Extension inside of the Chrome Web Store. Installable web apps can be as simple as a bookmark to a website similar to what I created for CloudContacts or can be more robust as in the Seesmic and Amazon examples I noted above.
Creating the basic app is easy — just a few lines of code in a text file, an icon of your service and a zip file containing both files. You are required to pay $5 fee to “register” as a developer before you can publish any apps to the Chrome Web Store. After you upload your app, you are taken to a control panel for the app. Here you can set items including pricing, categories, default language, detailed description of the app and other items including if the app has mature content. You can select to tie the app into a Google Analytics account and select to use OpenID for authentication. Lastly, you can upload a variety of screenshots including some promo screenshots in case Google decides to feature your app (Seesmic is one of the featured apps).
After all of the selected changes are complete, you can publish the web app to either a selected list of testers or to the world. I found the usability on this testing functionality to be lacking. Like any good developer, I decided to send the app to CloudContacts team members and to other colleagues so they can test and provide feedback. After I received a number of suggested changes, I was ready to hit the big button and make the web app live to all. Unfortunately that isn’t possible. The publish button was replaced with the following text, “Publishing to test accounts will make the app available only to trusted testers you choose. You will need to create a new listing to publish your app to all users when you are done with testing.” I had to manually copy over all of the elements into a new web app and then publish that app to the world. This is just not good practice because the typical process is to move forward to production with an app that has been tested. Instead I had to just hope I copied everything over correctly.
Ok, now the app is live! Yahoo! Ok, let’s find it in the web store. I placed the app into the Utilities category. So I selected Utilities from the left menu inside of the web store. Another strike for usability — where is the “all” option — how do I browse all of the web apps inside the utilities category? The only options are to select “all” under Featured or Popular. But my CC app is new – it wouldn’t fall into either of these categories. Clicking “all” under featured shows me a handful of web apps. And once you click this option, there’s no way to get back to the Utilities category! The breadcrumbs aren’t linked and the left menu is also unlinked. So I need to go back to the main web store and start over again.
If I select “all” under the Popular option, it appears this is actually some sort of ranking and from what I can tell, all of the utilities apps are listed here. The CC app was listed on the last page. Again, just like above, there’s no way to get back to the main utilities page. I give Google a big thumbs down for discovery.
Alright so I found the CC app, let’s install it. Since the app is free, it’s just one click and the app is added to your “apps”. Now where is the app installed — how do I find it? Apparently the only place to find the apps you installed is to open a new tab. This means when you open the Chrome web browser, it will still default to the home page you have set. Yet again, another piece of poor usability. I doubt the average web user will understand how to find the apps after they are installed. If you compare to the iPhone or iPod Touch app store experience, you install an app and bingo it’s on your screen – easy to find and easy to load.
Overall I found the experience of creating a basic app to be easy. Google has good developer documentation for building and publishing web apps. The store still seems very tech-oriented and not for average, casual web users. This is an issue with a lot of the consumer products Google launches – they are awesome with utility but not as strong with consumer usability. Google is going to have to dramatically increase the usability before the Chrome Web Store can appeal to the masses.
Tomorrow I will provide my suggestions on how Google can easily increase the usability and app discovery for their new Google Chrome web store. Grab the RSS feed to be instantly notified when the content is available.