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How to Turbocharge your Chrome Browser with Apps

chrome-apps

By Dan Mason

If you’re using Chrome you have probably come across extensions – those invaluable toolbar buttons that turn your browser from a window on the internet into a productivity powerhouse.

But there’s something else you can install in Chrome: apps. You may even have installed one by mistake when searching for an extension in the Chrome Web Store … apps sit above extensions, but the difference isn’t always that obvious.

So what’s an app? An app is a Chrome-optimised version of a website with interactive features. At their most basic, apps are little more than a shortcut to websites, displayed in a handy dashboard. But they can also drive browser-based tools in their own right.

Where do I find my apps? The button to show apps is to the left of your Bookmarks Bar, just below the URL window. If you don’t see your Bookmarks Bar, go to Chrome’s three-bar menu, at the top right, mouse down to Bookmarks, and make sure Show Bookmarks Bar is ticked.

chrome-show-bookmarks-toolbar

If you still don’t see the apps button, right click anywhere on the Bookmarks Bar and tick Show Apps Shortcut. Now you’ll be able to click the small coloured grid to view your apps within Chrome.

chrome-apps-button

You’ll see a few apps already installed. But if you don’t need them, remove them from Chrome by right-clicking and selecting Remove from Chrome. Apps can appear across more than one page (see the bars at the bottom of the page) and can be dragged to change page or position.

How do I install an app? The first button on your app page is a link to the Chrome Web Store, where you can browse or search for hundreds of apps.

To install, click on the app to view its details, then the blue ‘+ Free’ button. Chrome will check for compatibility then ask if you want to install the app. Click Add, the app will be installed (the button turns green), and an apps preview window will pop up. You’re ready to go.

chrome-app-install

To test the process, and get a feel for how an app can provide a different user experience to a website, try installing the New York Times app (which comes with a variety of display options by clicking the Layout button to the bottom right).

chrome-newyorktimes-app

So which apps should I install? Here are a few suggestions …

Tweetdeck. In addition to opening the Tweetdeck dashboard within Chrome, this app enables you to tweet any web page you visit by right clicking and selecting Share page with Tweetdeck. The headline and URL will be loaded into Tweetdeck ready to share or schedule.

SnagIt. There are lots of screenshot and annotation extensions around and SnagIt is one of the best. First, install the SnagIt extension THEN install the app – you need both. The extension allows you to grab and annotate any part of a page, while the extension opens your SnagIt library in a separate window. SnagIt automatically saves a PNG image of your screenshots to Google Drive and the app also enables screencast recording.

Send Anywhere. One of my favourite tools for quickly sharing files between computer and mobile devices. The Chrome extension launches a Send Anywhere window from which you can send or receive files.

When you send files, Send Anywhere generates a unique number which is then typed into the app on the receiving device. It also creates a QR code which makes sharing as simple as pointing your mobile phone at the sending screen. You can also register your devices and Send Anywhere will detect if they are available nearby for instant sharing.

chrome-send-anywhere

Audio and Video. Always handy to have tools at your fingertips for converting or trimming a piece of audio or video. And the apps don’t come much simpler than these, by 123Apps.com: Audio Cutter, Video Cutter, Audio Converter, Audio Joiner

chrome-apps-audio-cutter

Pixlr Editor. Really just a shortcut to the king of online photo editors.

Pocket. I use the Pocket extension all the time for saving stories to read later, synchronised to my iPad and available offline. It’s irritating, though, that you can’t jump to the Pocket website through the extension button. The Pocket app will take you to the website and make your saved bookmarks available for offline reading in Chrome.

Google tools. It’s no surprise that Chrome apps work so nicely with Google Calendar, Gmail, Gmail Offline and Google Drive. The good thing about these apps is that they allow offline access to your favourite Google tools.

google-tools

This Resource page was written by Dan Mason, a journalist, media consultant and trainer, specialising in digital communications and social media. Dan trains all over the world and delivers the NUJ’s social media training in Wales.

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