Google today confirmed that it is adding Android apps to Chrome OS, it’s lightweight desktop OS for laptops and other PC form factors.
“We’re adding Android apps to Chromebooks, which means users will be able to install the apps they know and love,” Google announced on the Android Developers Blog. “Later this year [developers] can expand [their] app’s reach to a new hardware platform and wider audience while maximizing the Google Play ecosystem.”
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So what does this mean?
Google is bringing Google Play to Chrome OS. Today, Chromebook owners can access the (weak) Chrome Web Store to find and install web apps. With this change, the Google Play Store is also coming to Chrome OS, so users can find and download Android apps too. “The same apps that run on phones and tablets can now run on Chromebooks without compromising their speed, simplicity or security, Google notes. “And all this is built on top of Chrome OS, so users will continue to have everything they love in their Chromebooks.”
You will be able to run Android apps on Chrome OS. Any Android app that is distributed via the Google Play Store will run on Chrome OS in the near future, Google says. This means that Microsoft Office is (sort of) coming to Chrome OS because you will be able to run the Android tablet versions of those apps on a real laptop now. This is actually kind of a big deal.
Android apps on Chrome will have unique capabilities. Android apps can be displayed in three different window sizes, Google says, to allow the best experience. Users will be able to multitask with multiple Android apps in moveable windows along with a full desktop browser, all within the familiar Chrome OS interface, it notes, and keyboard, mouse, and touch input will seamlessly work together. Android notifications will appear on Chromebooks, and the performance is reportedly “excellent.”
The audience is everyone. This isn’t just targeted at U.S. education, the only market in which Chrome OS has been successful. This change is for individuals and businesses that use Chromebooks as well.
It will be a staged rollout, starting with a limited preview in June. The timing is similar to that of the other announcements this week from Google I/O: Not immediately, but “later this year.” And it will happen in stages: The ASUS Chromebook Flip, the Acer Chromebook R 11 and the latest Chromebook Pixel will get Android app support first, in June, in the Chrome OS M53 release in the developer channel. And then, over time, this will roll out to other Chromebooks in the market too. Google says it is working with its partners to launch “some great new devices specially designed for Play” as well. But it will be “a few months” before we find out more.
So. This is a big deal, folks.
As I noted recently in Can Google and Apple Pull the Plug on the PC Market?Windows and the PC market are under a lot of pressure from a variety of mobile platforms. By combining Android apps with Chrome OS, Google is providing a much simpler platform than Windows, and is doing so in a less expensive and more easily managed package that can benefit individuals, schools, and businesses. In many ways, Android apps erases most of the current hurdles with Chrome OS.
To be fair—and this is a point many will miss—Microsoft has already done the hard work of integrating its mobile and desktop platforms into a cohesive single platform, Windows 10. And it should be likewise noted that Windows 10 isn’t just limited to phones, tablets, and PCs. It also runs on embedded/IoT devices, the Xbox One console, the HoloLens mixed reality headset, and the Surface Hub collaboration solution. Windows 10 is arguably a more mature and complete platform than Chrome + Android.
But the issues remain. Again, in Can Google and Apple Pull the Plug on the PC Market? I wrote that maturing mobile platforms was easier than simplifying legacy platforms. This can easily be stated by a simple concept: “It’s easier to add stuff than to take it away.” So while Chrome OS has not been super-successful so far—though Google did just reveal that Chromebooks outsold Mac in the US only—this change could put it over the top as there are so many Android apps. This is something I’ll be watching closely.
Interested in running Android apps on Chrome? See the Google support pageChromebooks that support Android apps for an always-updated list of Chrome OS devices that will run Android apps.