Chrome App Store has potential, but feels like the right product at the wrong time

Having spent some time playing around with Google’s new Chrome web store, I can see what they are going for, but I’m still not sure that there is a need for it.  At least not yet.

Apple has already proven the value of having an App Store.  When I think back to the fishing expeditions I used to do to find applications for my old Palm Treo, the App Store strikes me as an inspired idea.  It met three needs:

  1. Discover – all applications for my phone are collected in one place, by category, allowing me to easily browse, search, and compare
  2. Reviews – feedback from users is available side-by-side with the application, so I don’t have to run separate searches once I found an application of interest just to see what people thought about it
  3. Monetization – engineers can focus their time on creating applications, and Apple handled the billing side of things.  Furthermore, having a marketplace helps keep prices down, since it is easy to find other, competing applications

So why does Google think we need an App Store for the web?  When I look at my own Chrome browser, I can see what they are going for.  I currently have 23 tabs open, and while some of them are web pages, many of them are really applications that happen to be running in a web browser:

  • Yahoo! Mail
  • Google Voice
  • iGoogle home page, with all of my RSS feeds
  • Posterous
  • Akamai Control Center
  • an internal site that I use to monitor production systems

Why do I use that specific mix?  Well, some of them are mandated by the nature of my job, but others, like Posterous and Google Voice, are just applications that I stumbled upon through word of mouth.  Wouldn’t they benefit from the same sorts of discovery and review options?  An App Store seems like a reasonable solution.

The problem is that while I acutely felt the difficulty of finding good apps for my Treo, I don’t feel like I have a problem with web applications.  When I am sitting at my desk, I have the whole web at my disposal.  In general, I don’t need that perfect little application that will be two taps on my phone as I run from the car into the supermarket.  Word of mouth to find great applications is meeting my needs just fine.  Back when web apps were starting to become popular, there might have been some real value in a store like this, but that time has passed.

I do see two areas of real potential in a web app store.  The first is in monetization.  Right now, if you want to start a business, figuring out our monetization model is a royal pain.  Everyone is used to the web being free, so there is already a barrier to getting people to type in their credit card number.  Furthermore, putting in the billing infrastructure is time that could be better spent on putting an application together, so having a centralized marketplace to handle billing certainly could help with monetization and pay walls.

The other big area of potential is the Chrome OS, of course.  Since this OS targets the netbook marketplace, it really is looking for those perfect little applications that I can use while I am out and about.  Once Chrome OS is truly launched and competing with the iPad, I think the Chrome Web Store will become a much more useful application for users of that platform.


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