Have you ever found yourself thinking:
I wish there was an app for this website
? I know I have. Many times indeed. First thing I can think of: Trello. I love so much this web app I can’t count how many times I wished there was a native app.
There’s just so many fantastic web apps these days. So many useful tools that let us do all sorts of things and be productive, whether it is marketing, writing, managing social media, designing things or staying organized. But for many, it feels cumbersome to always have to launch your browser to access those apps.
Maybe you’re like me and value the comfort and ease of use of a traditional desktop app. But as the trend for web apps continues to grow, there’s more and more creators that simply skip the usual app format to provide only a web app. This is frustrating considering how many gems exist out there. I’m thinking of Trello, Gmail, Buffer, YouTube, Google Keep… If only there was a native app for each one of these. But it’s not the case. Or is it?
Actually, while those great web apps don’t have official desktop counterparts, there is an more than acceptable solution to this very issue: turning these web apps into native desktop apps yourself. Don’t fret: while you certainly could, I’m not talking about coding anything here. I’m talking about a process that takes approximately 5 minutes and let you turn virtually any web app into a native desktop app.
How to do it? Well, thanks to several tools, it has become very easy to do so. It’s just a matter of clicking, adding an URL, choosing an icon and voilà!
I’m going to show you the process on Mac using a nifty app called EpiChrome, but it works just the same with Fluid. Sadly, I haven’t bee able to find any similar app for Windows. If you know one, please let me know in the comments.
On Mac, all these apps do their magic in a similar fashion. What they really do is simply integrate their own version of Chrome browser, strip the interface to make it look like a native app, and embed the web app in it so you get the real experience of your web app right from your the comfort of a desktop app.
For the example, I’ll be creating a desktop app version of Google Keep using EpiChrome (it works the same with other sites and other apps like Fluid).
All you have to do is get the app here, extract the archive and launch it. You’ll be presented with this prompt:
Click ok, then select a name for your app and its destination folder. Most of the time, you’ll want to stick with OS X/macOS default Applications folder.
The app is then going to ask you which App style you want to choose: either App Window or Browser Tabs. Obviously, you’ll want to use App Window, as the other option will simply mimic the appearance of a web browser, showing tabs and such.
Next, you just have to provide the URL of the desired app, and when prompted, decline to register the app as a browser. I’m not sure why you’d want to register the app as a browser—doing so means having it launch automatically when you click on links in other apps—and you’ll have the option to update this setting anyway, if you really want to.
Lastly, you’ll be able to provide a custom icon to represent your app. You can either get the official app icon via Google Images or go to IconFinder, a site that offers a ton of great icons for free.
Finally, confirm that everything is ok and click Create:
and you’re almost done.
The first time you start the app, you’ll be presented with an option page where you’ll be able to tweak settings so it behaves more like a true native app. I suggest you select the options If a link doesn’t match any rule, open it with: Default Browser and check Stop further handling for links sent to default browser…. Since it’s really a web page disguised as an app, this setting allows links inside the app to open in your true system’s default browser.
Else, some of the links you click in the app may open inside the app while you’d usually want them to open in your default browser.
Finally, since it’s the first time you use the app, simply log in to your account:
Don’t forget to save your credentials when asked, and you’re done! From now on, you’ll have a native app called Google Keep, that will appear in the launchpad. You’ll be able to use it just like any other regular native app, put it in the dock, launch it from Spotlight or Alfred, etc…
Of course, they are some minor limitation. As I stated in the beginning of this article, you’re really just creating a shell, containing nothing more than a web page, so there are things unsupported, like native integration with the OS notifications system. But it’s still a great and easy way to have a web app behave and appear just like a regular desktop app.