You read that right. In the coming months, it seems Google is ready to transition one of the more complex core applications on a Chromebook over to what is commonly referred to in Chrome OS as a System Web App (or SWA for short). Other apps have previously gone this route with little in the way of fanfare, but those apps have been quite a bit more simplistic in their nature, too. Take the main system settings and the upcoming diagnostics apps as examples. These apps are already built as SWAs or will be soon, and it seems Google is keen to continue moving in that direction for any and everything they can with Chrome OS.
For the camera app, though, I’d imagine it wasn’t so simple. After all, a list of settings or a readout of diagnostics is little more than an interactive web page at best, right? But a camera application? That’s a whole different level and it is crazy to hop over to the Developer Channel of Chrome OS, flip the chrome://flags/#camera-system-web-app flag and use the camera just like you would on any other laptop, all the while knowing this complex functionality is actually running on web-based tech.
A couple observations. First, this is a bit mind-boggling when you consider where the web was as a platform just a handful of years ago. Take it back a little bit and you see that even in 2007 when the original iPhone launched and into 2009 when the fully web-based Palm Pre and WebOS hit the scene, the web was completely incapable of delivering application experiences anywhere close to what you could get utilizing native code. Most forget that the original iPhone was supposed to completely leverage the web and web apps when first launched, but Apple had to abandon that philosophy simply because the web just wasn’t ready.
Fast forward to today and we not only have an entire OS built around the web (Chrome OS), we have a thriving ecosystem of devices and services that 100% live and breath because the web can do amazing things. Just yesterday here in the office, we were collaborating on a script for an upcoming video and all three were in the document editing. As I could hear Joe typing on the other side of my desk, I watched in real time as his words appeared on my screen with little or no delay. They didn’t appear in large chunks or all at once every few seconds. It felt almost like he was using a wireless keyboard and typing on my Chromebook. It was one of those ‘wow’ moments where you take a step back and realize how amazing and connected the web is in 2020.
Second, this effort makes a ton of sense for a lightweight operating system like Chrome OS. With web apps, there is no need to visit a store and download assets: they are just there when you need them. The next time you shut it down and restart (the app or the Chromebook), the new version is right there waiting. This feels far more inline with the way Chrome OS operates than having users constantly in and out of an app store to get the apps they need. This move to SWAs for most system-level applications also gives Google the ability to fix and patch things on the fly without a full system update needing to be applied.
Though the smooth functionality of the SWA camera on Chrome OS is already pretty awesome all by itself, it isn’t the operation of that app that is important, here. It’s the fact that Google is not only willing, but now fully able to move integrated applications over to web-based tech that is lighter, cleaner, and easier to maintain for users. For an operating system that is completely based around the web, it only makes sense, right?