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Chrome Web Apps Will Soon Behave Like Native Apps on Mac


The latest developer channel release of Google Chrome for Mac houses a number of flags that change the way ‘Hosted Apps’ are handled.

We saw in December how Google plans to make Hosted Apps a consistent part of the Chrome OS and Windows experience using new ‘window frames’ housing navigation controls and URL information.

Running these web-based applications, glorified bookmarks that are now listed under ‘Websites’ on the Chrome Web Store, alongside offline savvy Chrome Apps on OS X is harder than on other desktop operating systems (Mac builds of Chrome don’t use the Aura UI framework).

But Chrome is tackling the experiential differential. Three changes in the latest Chrome Dev Channel release make using Hosted Apps on OS X easier, two in the form of flags, and one by default:

  • ‘Hosted App Shims’ — app launchers for Spotlight, Launchpad, Dock
  • ‘On Quit Notification’ — stops Hosted Apps closing when Chrome is quit
  • Navigation controls in menu bar — back, forward and reload options
mac chrome dock icon

Current approach: no separate icons

Before we take a closer look at each change in turn, remember that (as with all experimental features) what’s listed below is subject to change and is not guaranteed to filter down to stable channels.

Hosted App Shims

Chrome Apps can be launched from pretty much anywhere on OS X. They appear in the Chrome App Launcher, Spotlight, Launchpad and Finder, and lodge a separate entry in the Dock like a regular native Mac app.

When set to run in their own window, Hosted Apps (like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, etc.) currently behave differently. Their launchers appear in the Chrome App Launcher only and are not listed as separate or pinnable entries in the Dock.

The new “mac app shim” flag in the latest Chrome Dev builds fixes these issues in one swoop. It gifts newly installed url apps — note the ‘newly installed’ bit; it doesn’t yet affect those already installed — their own independent app shortcut, icon and OS presence.

That means you can switch between open apps in the Dock and launch them from Spotlight, Launchpad, Alfred, and so on.

chrome hosted apps in mac os x dock

New approach: Hosted Apps appears separately

Navigation Controls

Navigating Hosted Apps set to run in their own window is easier in the latest dev build. Basic navigation controls are now listed in the menu bar. These are History > back, forward and View > Reload.

Background Mode Notification



In current builds you can quit Chrome and all Hosted Apps at the same time. But say you’re midway through working in Pixlr Editor or a Word Online document – that wouldn’t be ideal.

With the ‘Display a notification when quitting Chrome if hosted apps are currently running’ flag enabled in the latest Chrome for Mac Dev builds you get a warning prompt when attempting to close the browser with apps in the background .

This warning prompt is already in use for Chrome Apps.

Chrome App Integration on OS X Is Nothing New

Google began trialling Finder integration for Chrome Apps on OS X last year and more recently added the ability to open Google Drive files from the website directly in local apps, with all changes made being synced back to the cloud.

Hosted Apps — or “websites” as Google now calls them — remain glorified bookmarks, even with this new set of system integration. But don’t count them out entirely.

Google’s working on new initiatives, like Service Workers, to offer powerful new features to “websites”. While largely targeted to mobile use cases (i.e., a website can run offline and update in the background, like an app can), expect to reap benefits on the desktop side, too.

  • yeah right

    Does this mean anything for the little hangouts bubble working properly on Mac? Or are we SOL?

  • Megh Parikh

    Copying open web apps?

  • Really sick of background mode though. Chrome shouldn’t have to be running. Switching between apps always selects the wrong window.

  • xdigi

    Too bad nobody uses Chrome on a Mac due to the fact that it’s a bloated resource hog.

    • Cool trolling, bro.

      • xdigi

        Yes, you’re right. Chrome is NOT a resource hog on Mac…. /s

        • I really appreciate the nuanced discussion you bring to this website.

          • xdigi

            Oh, you’re a troll. Got it. Thanks for contributing nothing.

          • I take back everything. You’re totally okay.

    • Shane Bryson

      I don’t use anything but Chrome on Mac. Mozilla is completely unstable and Safari has little to no features. Chrome is versatile, stable, and incredibly fast. Speak for yourself.

  • What about Linux?

    • Ankit Pati

      We already have it, at least on Ubuntu with Unity. This is nothing new for Ubuntu users. Good luck if you’re using other distros, though.

      • This works great in any distro and/or desktop environment, it does not only work on “buggy Ubuntu” as a matter of fact an surprised it works on ubuntu at all.

  • xdigi

    lol Chrome web apps? Great now I can have a bookmark to a website in my dock. What’s the point? The entire Chrome “web store” needs to be demolished because it’s such an embarrassing failure it makes Google+ look good.

    • There are two (three including Android Apps, but we’ll ignore that here) types of apps on Chrome:

      Web Apps (now called ‘websites’ in the Web Store, and what the Shims in this article are referring too). These are glorified bookmarks.

      And Chrome Apps (which are packaged apps written in web technologies, run offline, leverage privileged APIs, etc).

  • Scott Nath

    So these shims have shown up in regular chrome on mac. Anyone know of instructions on how to create a stand-along native app?

    • Matthew R Brown

      I’m also interested to know. I can’t find any information on it exception this article. I am wondering if it is indeed actually possible as I would of thought there would be more articles out there about it!

  • Matthew R Brown

    Is this article and the accompanying screenshots a concept? I have downloaded Chrome Dev Channel v44 and I cannot work out how to add a hosted app. The chrome://flags appear to be the same as v42 stable. Are you able to post some further instruction on how you achieved the results of your screenshots? Thanks!

  • Ivan Čurić

    Any updates on this?

  • BondSan

    awesome. im about to switch from windows to mac and i’ve been using google apps on my windows 10 task-bar and i love the integration. if the do the same for the mac dock i will be one happy camper.

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