Android Apps for Chrome OS Are Here, and They Are the Future of Both Platforms

Google has just made the entire Android app library available to Chromebook owners, but only the Chromebook Flip so far. After trying a few, my Flip has become one of the most useful devices for me. There are still some rough edges, but you will have a lot more reasons to buy a Chromebook in the near future.

Why having Android apps on Chrome OS is cool

Despite how good Chromebooks can be , they’ve struggled to get rid of all that “just a browser”. Developers could create Chrome apps that work like native apps, but most of them didn’t. Why bother when so few people use them? Android, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem. Over a billion Android users and over two million apps in the Play Store . All of this will now be available for Chromebooks as well.

It immediately made my own Chromebook more useful. For example, here are a few apps that I immediately found useful and were pain points in the past:

  • 1Password : There hasn’t been a good way to sync my password store with my Chromebook, and the only way to use them at all is with workarounds . The 1Password Android app gives me immediate access to my storage on my laptop.
  • Aviary Photo Editor : There are some good web photo editors out there, but they are often very limited and clunky. I used to make it work when I had to write and edit images on the go, but the Aviary Android app is much better suited to my needs and I don’t need an internet connection to use it.
  • Marvel Comics : Lightweight touchscreen devices are great for reading comics. I usually have to use my tablet to do this because comic reader sucks. On the other hand, the Marvel Comics app works great. The Marvel Unlimited app is a little buggy, but new.
  • Microsoft Office (Offline): I’m generally happy with Google’s Office suite that has been working offline on Chromebooks for a while now. However, when I needed Microsoft Office, I could only use the online tools. I can now use the Android version of Excel to manage my ridiculous comic book spreadsheet without an internet connection on my Chromebook.

You will notice that I have not mentioned the “big apps” that everyone searches in app stores like Facebook or YouTube. This is because Chrome OS already handles these tasks well in a browser tab. In fact, you probably won’t need Android apps for large services that you use all the time. Instead, the Play Store helps you fill in all those little niches that you could never fix with web apps or apps that developers have already built for Chrome OS.

The Play Store also offers a huge library of games for Chrome OS. This is a mixed blessing as most games have been designed to work with touchscreen phones and tablets. My Chromebook Flip has a touchscreen, but most Chromebooks don’t. For example, I could play a Hearthstone match on my laptop, but dragging and dropping cards with the trackpad would often cause them to land in the wrong place (and end up costing me the match). However, I was able to play a Blizzard game on my Chromebook which I couldn’t before.

I also wrote this article about my Chromebook, which is a feat in itself. I’ve used my Chromebook to write while away from my desktop and it’s serviceable, but it’s never been as easy as my desktop. I also had to rely on Chrome Remote Desktop as a fallback to use my desktop at home for things like Photoshop. It’s still not perfect, but much simpler.

Apps are already working great, with little growth issues

Since we’re still looking into the developer preview, we can’t know for sure how Android apps on Chrome OS will work in their final form, but what we have is looking pretty good already. If you own a Chromebook Flip, you can see instructions on how to join the Developer Channel here . Once you do this, you will have a new icon for the Play Store on your taskbar.

The Play Store looks exactly the same as on Android. Once you sign in with your Google account, all the apps in the store are available for download, including all the paid apps you’ve ever bought. You can also buy movies, music, books and magazines from the content section of the Play Store and then open them on Google Play apps for Android.

Apps launch right now in portrait or landscape mode. It is reported that this will change depending on the release , but so far you can only use them in one of the two modes, and only a few applications support interleaving between the two. Most applications simply launch in landscape mode and stay that way.

Since Android relies on a system-wide back button, which Chrome OS doesn’t have, there is a permanent back button in the left corner of the title bar of every app. It’s a little weird, and while it doesn’t hurt anything, it’s a little reminder that bundling Android apps with Chrome OS isn’t perfect science.

Notifications are handled by the regular notification system of Chrome OS, however, you will only receive notifications from the apps you open. This can sometimes lead to weird quirks where you can expect a notification from an app you closed like a messenger, but Chrome won’t give it to you. Let’s see if that changes Google along the way.

This is a promising start when some bugs are fixed.

As great as it is to have Android apps on Chrome OS, there are still some issues. Firstly, most applications are still designed to work on phones or tablets, so there are some breakdowns. For example, if an app requires SMS or GPS, your laptop probably cannot do this, so these features won’t work. It’s even worse for apps that require a touchscreen if your Chromebook doesn’t have one.

There is also the issue of using local files with Android apps. Due to the way Android apps save files, they are not currently displayed in the Chrome OS file manager. So, for example, when I edited the photos in this post in Aviary, the new versions were not saved in the same folder. I couldn’t find them anywhere by searching for files on my Chromebook. In the end, I had to share them on Google Drive to find them.

Chrome OS also doesn’t support launching external apps from browser links, which is very contrary to how Android apps handle links. For example, if you click this link for Fallout Shelter on your Android device, it will open directly in the Play Store and you can install it with one tap. On Chrome OS, it will open in a browser. You can technically install it remotely from the Play Store, but that’s not ideal. Sometimes this behavior is completely disruptive, as in the case of the “magic login” in Slack, which relies on launching an Android application from the link you received in an email.

Of course, I can find fault, but this is a preliminary look at the future. I can’t judge this too harshly because of the issues that might be fixed by the time this feature becomes available to everyone. However, it still helps to bring out an important point. Android apps were never designed for Chrome OS. It’s cool to use them, but it will probably be awkward for a long time until Google and the app makers help iron out the corners.

Despite a few bugs, the future of Chrome OS looks extremely promising. Android apps can already do a lot more than web apps or even native Chrome OS apps. After updating my Chromebook, I played Hearthstone, edited spreadsheets offline in Excel, read comics, edited photos, and managed my passwords. Every task used to be either much more difficult or completely impossible. If this is a sign of where things are heading, then perhaps you should seriously consider Chromebooks in the future. Just make sure it has a touchscreen.


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