With a brand new year looming large, it’s time for a quick look back at the rear view mirror before pressing on ahead — and what a view 2014 holds for Chrome fans.
We’ve seen native 64-bit builds of the browser land on both Mac OS X and Windows, savoured the introduction of nifty new features like tab audio indicators, and reaped the benefits of developers getting access to new APIs, design guidelines and features.
The past 12 months have also seen a great many changes in the world of Chrome Apps. In this post we look back at some of the very best new and updated Chrome Apps from 2014.
Sunrise built up a huge following on iOS, making its arrival on Android and Chrome OS (in May) all the more anticipated.
Kitted out with all kinds of handy organisational wizardry, support for multiple service providers, including Google Calendar, Outlook, Facebook and Todoist, it’s one of the easiest ways to stay on top of everything you need to do.
Some great touches include Google Maps integration for events with a location; Facebook birthdays; natural language app input; and much, much more.
- Flat, light design
- Works offline
- Google Calendar and iCloud sync
- Displays contextual information from Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter
- Smart icons for events
Sunrise, which works offline, is a free download from the Chrome Web Store.
Wunderlist 3 (Update)
Wunderlist hardly needs an introduction. A mainstay in the productivity toolbox of millions, it’s practically a byword for “getting things done”.
The company behind the app, 6Wunderkinder, having abandoned its noble, if flawed, ambitions for a wider range of apps and services, returned to lavish attention and new features on its task manager. And boy did it show.
Aside from a cleaner look free of the skeuomorphic touches came a raft of new features, some of which were previously only available to ‘premium’ subscribers.
From file attachments, public lists, real-time sync, comments and a new notification centre, all served to power up an already powerful to-do app.
- Real-time sync across platforms/devices
- New design & layout
- Public Lists
- Comments available to all
- Media uploads
- Activity Center
- New backgrounds
Wunderlist 3 is a free download from the Chrome Web Store, with paid plans available for more features. And, like most other Chrome Apps on this list, it also works offline.
Instagram now outranks social grandee Twitter in both user numbers and active engagement. As cliched and mocked as the photo sharing network is, it’s clear it isn’t going anywhere.
Using the service on the desktop was made easier this year by the arrival of Pixsta by Sweetlabs, makers of the popular Windows software ‘Pokki’.
Their app offers a slick, app-like experience for browsing the artistic and wannabe-artistic snaps posted to Instagram.
While Pixsta doesn’t offer native image uploading — something no non-official app has thanks to Instagram limiting their API — it is still a fantastic tool. It excels for casual needs, like viewing, liking and commenting on yours friends’ latest hot beverages, bed selfies and other hipster-fodder.
- Search for photos by user, tag or location
- Get notified of new likes and comments
- Two layouts: media grid and list
- Ability to download photos and videos
- Comment, follow/unfollow and like
- Edit your own profile
Pixsta is a free download and runs offline. To get the most from it you will need an active Instagram account, something that can only be created through the official Instagram apps on Android, iOS and Windows Phone.
Play Movies (Update)
Google’s movie & TV store underwent a transformation this year, hatching from a mere web link into a fully fledged packaged app back in June.
In the months that followed Google has added more and more features to it, including the ability to download purchased content for offline playback (Chrome OS only).
Other features are more subtle, like in-app searching and purchases of movies, while playhead sync with apps on Android and iOS lets you pick up that episode of Girls right where you left it.
Google Play Movies & TV is a free app available for Chrome on Windows, Mac, Linux and Chrome OS.
Polarr (sic) is a photo editing app that is so good, so powerful and so well designed that you almost have to pinch yourself when noticing that it’s free.
No ads, no catches; just raw WebGL-powered photo editing tools that professional-grade apps like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture demand money for. It has a slight learning curve, but has all the fine-grained controls avid photographers expect.
Among the adjustment settings:
- Basics, including color, temperature, exposure, saturation
- Lights and shadows, including highlight quantity and strength
- Interactive color curves and tones
- Lens physics, including barrel distortion and vignetting
- Apply grain
- Crop and rotation tools
- Community contributed pre-sets, including ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ option
Since launching in the Web Store the app has (quite rightly) been promoted by Google. Polarr is by far and away one of the most powerful free apps of its kind available on any platform, not just Chrome.
Hangouts App (New)
Even the most ardent users of Hangouts, Google’s GTalk replacement service, have a love/hate relationship with its new ‘Chrome App’.
On the one hand it looks fantastic, offering a seamless and thoughtful presentation of chat activity. But on the other, it rarely works like a champ, and the use of ‘web view’ rendering leaves it with a serious memory problem.
But it’s getting better. Just this week the Hangouts team has added Google Voice integration and notification of new messages when the app is hidden or minimised.
Hangouts for Chrome is a free app, but only officially supports Windows and Chrome OS. Linux and Mac users can install it but should be prepared for quirks.
Google Play Music (New)
The reason for including Google Play Music is two fold. It’s undoubtedly just a handy little widget to have floating around on the desktop (assuming you’re a user of Google’s free music streaming service), with support for global keyboard media keys being especially useful.
But the other reason is that, by having it installed, you can use browser-based uploading of music files to Google Play Music rather than installing the old ‘Music Manager’ app for desktop.
It could be better, mind. It’d be nice to be able to use the app without needing to keep the main Play Music website open in a tab. Additional sizes/layout options and the ability to view a queue/playlist wouldn’t go unloved, either.
With thousands of applications either debuting or updated this year it’s understandably hard to select just seven for this list. But if we didn’t, we’d be here all day.
Some honourable highlights not listed above but still worth mentioning again include Google Keep, which got some collaborative skills and a new icon this year and the new Chrome Recovery Tool (pictured above).
The Google Chrome Dev Editor, forever to be known to most by its code name ‘Spark’, also launched, whetting the appetites of code ninjas in the process.
Weather Now, TimeDoser, and the short-lived Elmnts ambient noise app all found favour, as did dependable tools like Pocket and Pixlr TouchUp.
Which apps (not extensions) were your favourite this year? Let us know in the space below.