Chrome webapps: The new companion apps?

Desktop apps are often enhanced by a mobile companion app. Look at products such as Evernote, 1Password or iAWriter: Great on the desktop, but much more useful due to their mobile companion apps.

In the early days of the iPhone (even after the App Store was launched), it was fairly common to see “mobile companion app”, that were just mobile-optimized webpages. ‘Get our mobile app’ was often just a link to a page with instructions how to add a web-clip to your home screen.
People soon realized however, that having a real mobile app was important for users and most products have scrapped mobile web-apps in favour of native experiences.

Fast forward to 2015 and the smartphone has arguably become most people’s primary computer for a wide range of tasks. And it looks as though we’re seeing a resurgence of web-based companion apps, but this time for the desktop!

How companion apps are built

2008: Desktop = native, mobile = web.
2015: Desktop = web, mobile = native.

Whatsapp and Handle are two examples of apps that have introduced “Desktop apps”, that are built as Chrome extensions. This shows that both companies consider their mobile experiences to be the primary way their service is used and are willing to offer a non-native desktop ‘companion app’.

While a web-app is a good way to bootstrap a cross-platform, desktop app for a product, most still can’t match the responsiveness and integration of a real, native desktop app. Web-apps are still probably only suited as a stop-gap measure, or as an alternative for smaller platforms you can’t afford to support with a native app.

But it is telling that products are increasingly willing to compromise on their desktop component while the primary experience is built mobile-first.