Chrome Apps for Mobile: Chromium Webview, more Google services

Lately you’ve heard of Google’s, as well as third party developers’, efforts to bring Android apps to Chrome, or to Chrome OS to be exact. Now Google is turning the tables around with an update to its Chrome Apps for Mobile tool that adds access to more Google Play services as well as the latest Chromium-based Webview for Chrome web apps that want to have a presence on both Android and iOS as well.

Chrome Apps for Mobile utilizes Apache Cordova to provide a wrapper around Chrome apps that will connect to Android and iOS platform APIs, making it possible to distribute those same web apps, mostly unchanged, on Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. This latest update adds API for a batch of Google Play Services that Chrome apps can hook into, including Google Cloud Messaging (GCM) which is used to send notifications and data from an app server to users, and rich notifications for displaying on Android’s notification panel, for example.

Somewhat more interesting perhaps is the inclusion of a Webview that uses Chromium instead of the original Android Web Browser component. Google itself switched the Android Webview to Chromium starting Android 4.4 KitKat, but that hasn’t been the case for older Android versions. What this update means for Chrome Apps for Mobile is that these web apps will be able to use a Chromium Webview even if they’re running on something as old as 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. This would somewhat address a recently exposed bug with the open source Android web browser that can bypass the Same Origin Policy (SOP) in order to allow javascript from, say, a hacker website to modify and access data on another website, like PayPal or a banking website.

As proof of concept, Google has released the quiz app Topeka on Google Play Store. The app was unveiled at I/O 2014 last June to showcase the new Material Design and Google’s Polymer web tool. Google has now taken this web app and packaged it into a Chrome App to demonstrate the new features of its updated Chrome Apps for Mobile tools. Hopefully, this could help Chrome app developers package their apps for distribution on Android, further bridging the gap between Google’s two different platforms.

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