Thinking About Android Studio on Chrome OS

Posted on March 28, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Dev, iOS, Mobile with 47 Comments

Thinking About Android Studio on Chrome OS

Google is rumored to be bringing its Android Studio developer environment to Chrome OS. If true, it means that developers will be able to create and test Android apps on the same device for the first time.

This is perhaps a bigger deal than is immediately obvious. That is, it’s not just a developer story: This change would mark an important evolutionary step in the hybrid devices that are now challenging PC and Mac.

As you probably know, I’ve written a lot about the decline of the PC and the rise of simpler and more personal devices like smartphones and tablets. About two years ago, for example, I wondered whether a then-rumored iPad Pro would disrupt the PC market. And more recently, I started pondering the impact if iPad Pro and other hybrid devices—Android-based 2-in-1s, for example—ever got sophisticated enough to take on the key productivity tasks for which we still use PCs. Could these devices plug the plug on the PC market?

But it’s not enough for those devices to have Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, or an Apple Pencil, for that matter. They need to become a lot more sophisticated, to offer the same efficiency and multitasking muscle that PC and Mac users enjoy. And those changes are going to require serious platform work.

I believe that work is happening. It’s more obvious at Google, where the firm has announced and then begun releasing new versions of Chrome OS that can also run Android apps. But even Apple, which moves more slowly and less transparently, has given us some hints: After releasing a poorly-regarded and belated new lineup of MacBook Pro laptops last Fall, the company’s next big release could include three new iPad Pro models. To both of these platform makers, traditional PCs and Macs are the past, not the future.

So I think it’s important to view this week’s rumors about Android Studio running on Chrome OS in this light. Today, you need a powerful PC or Mac to run Android Studio, the developer environment used to create Android apps. But even on such devices, this suite runs slowly, in part because it’s made with Java, and in part because Google doesn’t control the underlying platforms on which it runs.

That last bit is interesting, isn’t it? Here’s the maker of the dominant personal computing platform on earth, and it doesn’t even have a way to let developers target its own platform using that same platform. If you want to write Android apps, you need a Windows PC or a Mac. Imagine if you needed an iPad (or whatever) to write Windows apps. The very notion is ludicrous.

So getting Android development in-house is likely a big deal for Google regardless of the veracity of this week’s rumors. It’s possible that Google greenlighted Android apps on Chrome OS in part to make this happen too. (Android is also based on Java.)

Today, creators—whether they’re writers, artists, architects, software developers, or whatever—use PCs and Macs because the rival mobile platforms just aren’t mature enough to handle those tasks. But you can already do light writing and drawing/painting on some mobile devices, and that evolution will only continue. Getting a full-blown development environment on Chrome OS (which also includes Android) is a huge step. A huge step.

I’m curious to see whether Apple responds at its WWDC developer show this summer. It’s certainly well-poised to do so: Last year, it introduced Swift Playgrounds for iPad, a simple and even child/education-friendly way to get people up to speed on its new software development language. Is an XCode for iOS next? With the ability to build iOS apps … on iOS?

I think it’s inevitable, and that only the timing is in question. So I’ll be following the news from this year’s Google IO and WWDC with great interest, as always, and an eye towards these types of changes.


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Comments (47)

47 responses to “Thinking About Android Studio on Chrome OS”

  1. maethorechannen

    Even if Apple ever do release an iPad pro enough for development work, why would they bring XCode to iOS when they don't have to? It's not like back in the days when you needed a Lisa to write apps for the Mac, when they were asking developers to stump up over 23 thousand US dollars in today's money to be able to write apps for a totally new platform (that was ludicrous). I think forcing developers to buy a Mac is perfectly understandable from Apple's standpoint and livable from a developer's standpoint, so I fully expect it to continue.

    The moment Apple release pro development tools for iOS on iOS is the day I start to question the Mac's viability again.

  2. TheDude

    Android Studio is also available on Linux, which of course is the kernel used by ChromeOS. Would be interesting if they start porting Linux apps like Studio over to ChromeOS in addition to the Android apps now available.

  3. jimchamplin

    Yeah, this is as I called the possibility of Xcode on iOS, a watershed thing. The idea that one doesn't need a big, huge desktop OS for development is honestly not an easy thing for old heads like us to get our thoughts around, but I do believe that it's something that's coming sooner rather than later.

    That is, like Paul says it's inevitable, and I for one won't fight it. I'm not afraid of the possibility that things that I currently like may fade. I very recently decided it's not worth losing sleep over Windows. It's not changing my plans to keep learning C# and UWP programming, but the idea that Windows is going to be a driving force in computing is a done deal. That ship sailed. Even macOS isn't leading jack anymore.

    To invoke Steve Jobs' remark... I like driving trucks because of the power and versatility, but if I could also own a Smart 4-Two for zipping around Austin I would. I'm always going to have a PC (of some form) but eventually the mobile solution is going to be the better choice for more and more.

    Why fight it? Just embrace it.

  4. nbplopes

    If the future of "new gen" devices is to look and feel much like a Windows PC than they failed! Yes. they can support, a keyboard, or a mouse as well, but make it core of all experience is a failure on these devices. That is why I believe that Apple iPad Pro will probably never be like a PC even if it supports a mouse and a keyboard. Probably it will never support a mouse but a trackpad.

  5. VancouverNinja


    This comment is absolutely incorrect "the maker of the dominant personal computing platform on earth" (actually sounds like something a google employee would try to say about it).

    Android is a mobile phone OS. It is dominate in this regard but to try and call it a personal computing platform, in context of comparing it to the worlds #1 personal computing OS - Windows, is absolutely wrong. The majority of Android/iOS users have either a PC or a Mac for their Personal computing. No one seriously uses a phone OS in this regard.

    It is surprising how much you seem to get behind google when all they are attempting to do is become a bad knock off of Windows for their own benefit while delivering nothing innovative or more beneficial to the user.

  6. Waethorn

    "Google is rumored to be bringing its Android Studio developer environment to Chrome OS."

    To say that a single commit in source code for an API means that a whole software product is coming to the platform doesn't mean much - it's been rejected in code review.

    When the Raspberry Pi 3 launched, a new device tree for it was created in the same Android source code. Ditto for Chromium. Yet here we are with no product or even a complete source code tree for either OS on RPi3. And everybody claimed that it meant more than it did.

  7. mr3dxster

    I don't think that tablets and smartphones soon replace fully regular PCs. Even if we didn't think about PC's games there are a lot more tasks that more convenient to do at PC. Office, writing code in some Microsoft Visual Studio, even posting this comment is more convenient using traditional keyboard and mouse. But having Android Studio and writing programs to use on this same Android device is neat.

  8. Jules Wombat

    Android Apps are (can be) developed on Linux. There is no reliance upon Microsoft here.

    Linux/Android based OSs are about to overtake Windows as the post popular OS on the planet.

    • skane2600

      In reply to Jules Wombat:

      If you're talking about servers and devices for communicating/consuming content, then yes. Windows was never really the leader in those categories. But if you're talking about doing work (even as simple a thing as writing a book report for high school) than no.

      • Jules Wombat

        In reply to skane2600:

        Android is Linux based, and is used by more people than Windows. You are choosing to be very selective in your narrow definition of 'doing work'.  Desktop PCs are a diminishing proportion of achieving 'work'. Lots of work now being done on iPads and mobile Phones.

        • skane2600

          In reply to Jules Wombat:

          Neither one of us have definitive proof of how people use Windows and Macs vs Android and iOS, but the ergonomic advantages of non-mobile OS's for doing work are obvious. Tablets are a reasonable plan B for doing work on the go and smartphones a reasonable plan C.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to skane2600:

        Book reports which could be written with paper and pencil up to a decade or two ago now require either a Windows PC or a Mac, do they? Linux desktops can't be used to write even 3 paragraphs?

        • skane2600

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          Yes, people could write using paper and pencil, were able to do calculations by hand and play many games without any electronics, but I don't see the history lesson being relevant to this discussion. If you're saying that a Linux desktop is a better platform for getting work done than a tablet or smartphone, I agree, although relatively few in the general public use a Linux desktop.

  9. CompSciGuy31415

    I've been waiting for a good Android development platform for a long time. Don't get me wrong, Android Studio is immeasurably better than the previous Eclipse environments, but it still has a long way to go. I'm just surprised that Google hasn't created a "cloud" version of A.S. All the rendering could take place on their side and one could develop on basically anything with a modern web browser and a couple gigs of RAM.

  10. scotttech1

    I'm working through the Xamarin challenge and the first bit building and running the android app in the emulator on windows is taking forever. First the emulator takes forever, then the app is looking for a version of android I don't have the SDK for so I have to download that and it takes forever, then I'll have to spin up another slow android emulator.

    I have 8GB of Ram and a 7th Gen i5 on an M.2 SSD. it seems to me this shouldn't take so long.

    I'm interested to see how much the process could be sped up on ChromeOS where android is built in.

  11. Lateef Alabi-Oki

    The point, and advantage, of a Virtual Machine based language like Java, is that the underlying OS doesn't matter. Google is not going to abandon this benefit in the name of some theoretical optimizations and efficiencies that have been repeatedly proven to be false.

    So the argument that Google doesn't control the underlying OS that Android Studio runs is mute because Google deliberately chooses to develop technologies that are OS and platform independent. In other words, Google chooses their products to work and run everywhere by design.

    ChromeOS is basically a stripped down distribution of Linux. Android apps which are basically Java apps can run on ChromeOS via Google's container technology. Therefore, it's not far-fetched that the same container technology can be used to run any Java app, like Android Studio.

    Google is going to push their container technology on ChromeOS to its limits that it won't surprise me if a few years from now native Windows and MacOS apps would run on it in a secure and sandboxed manner without issues.

    Also, the argument that Android Studio is slow because of Java is silly. If you don't configure Android Studio properly, such as assigning its build system (Gradle), and the JVM with more working RAM, among other tweaks, then you're going to be in a world of pain.

    Most Android apps are written in Java. And they run and perform just as fast as any app I've used on any mobile platform that has apps written in C, C++, and Obj-C.

    • skane2600

      In reply to Lateef Alabi-Oki:

      Using Java to develop a sophisticated program doesn't eliminate the need to consider the environments it's going to run on. It's not as if Android Studio is exactly the same java code on every platform and completely blind to the OS it's running on.

      • tpiselli

        In reply to skane2600:

        It actually is the exact same byte code that runs on all platforms. Java doesn't compile down to OS specific machine code. Instead it uses an intermediate byte code that gets run as either interpreted or compiled to machine code depending on the JVM. The JVM has multiple compilers it can use to generate machine code and when that happens depends on numerous factors. The compiled machine code runs fast as fast as other code like C or C++. I've seen slow C/C++ apps and fast Java apps; depends on what the app is doing and how well the developer knows what they are doing. As I'm not a .Net developer someone correct me here; but doesn't .Net use an intermediate byte code as well?

        • skane2600

          In reply to tpiselli:

          If you look at the download page, there are 4 different options: 2 for Windows, 1 for Mac, and 1 for Linux. You would think a single download for all supported platforms would be adequate. Perhaps the difference is just installation, but maybe not.

          I understand how java works but even if the byte code were identical, that doesn't mean the "underlying OS doesn't matter". In fact java includes the function System.getProperty which can return the name of the OS that java is running on. This function would be entirely unnecessary if the OS was never relevant to a java program. Android Studio could use this function to customize some aspects of the program to be a better fit for the platform it's running on. I haven't examined the AS code so I can't say if this is what Google did.

          My main point that is that true WORE language would enable all programs to run on all platforms without the developer having to think about any of the platforms characteristics.

      • Lateef Alabi-Oki

        In reply to skane2600:

        As far as I know, it is the same code that runs on all 3 platforms.

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Lateef Alabi-Oki:

      ChromeOS uses libraries from Gentoo. It's still very unique in its own right though; it's not like other Linux's.

      • Lateef Alabi-Oki

        In reply to Waethorn:

        Yes, Chrome OS' security stack is different. It is more hardened than most Linux distributions. But the layer that will allow Google to "containerize" the Java JVM is likely going to be reusable across Linux distributions.

        The Google Cloud Platform relies heavily upon, if not exclusively on, Google Container Engine and Kubernetes. These technologies already "containerize" the JVM to run Java web applications and services on Google's cloud platform, which already run on Linux.

        So, Google is basically going to port GKE or Kubernetes to Chrome OS to run native Java apps, like Android Studio. I'm assuming in the future there will be a skew of Chrome OS, with tons of RAM, geared toward professionals, like developers, that will allow them to develop and run C, C++, Java and Android applications inside containers.

  12. Bats

    Ya know...I am still waiting for the Android Apps coming to the PC, as Paul stated on April 25th of last year. Paul's headline: Over 1 Million Android Apps Are Coming to Chrome OS … And to Windows

    • skane2600

      In reply to Bats:

      While Android apps on a 2-in-1 PC device might add some value to tablet mode, I don't see much value added to a desktop or laptop. Windows already has programs in every category that Android has and they're usually more capable. Android is best for the environment it was designed for - a smartphone.

    • maethorechannen

      In reply to Bats:

      That article was based on ARC. Google ended up scrapping that approach and the new way Goolge have implemented Android support is pretty ChromeOS specific.

    • madthinus

      In reply to Bats: Even Google realised that it is not needed, people are going to Android anyway...

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to Bats: I am still waiting for the Android Apps coming to the PC

      I don't think this is happening. Android apps on Chrome OS (in the future, when they work well) will be a big selling point for Chrome OS. It seems illogical that Google would give a gift like that to Microsoft, who's seen basically no traction for their own app ecosystem.

      If Android apps come to Windows, it will be because Microsoft creates its own Android-on-Windows runtime, not because Google builds an Android runtime into a browser.

      • Waethorn

        In reply to MikeCerm:

        Google's primary platform is still the cloud. Chrome OS makes perfect sense in that regard. Android is the mobile platform, but it's just a client platform, and lots of compute processing is being done in the cloud. Not very many Android apps do massive computations on local devices. On PC's, where you have a lot of platform-agnostic stuff going on, the web browser is the simplest client application to use as updates to code can be done server-side.

  13. shacoa

    Paul, typo in the article link... "Could these devices plug the plug on the PC market?" - s/b pull the plug

  14. obarthelemy

    "If you want to write Android apps, you need a Windows PC or a Mac. Imagine if you needed an iPad (or whatever) to write Windows apps. The very notion is ludicrous."


    • You can dev on the mainstream, cheap Windows platform. Not the same issue has having to buy a Mac to dev for iOS
    • You can also dev on Linux, and since Andoid is Linux-based that solve whatever mythological issue you have with cross-OS dev
    • a Mobile OS is not a dev OS. That's not an issue, no dev cares, nobody cares

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to obarthelemy:

      Yes. Because a $300 Atom or Celeron-m powered lappy is going to be such a wonderful experience for development. To get a decent out-of-the box dev experience, you need to have a good quality PC, which...

      ... surprise surprise...

      Costs about the same as a Macintosh.

      Can you run Visual Studio on one of those machines? Yeah. I run it on a Core-m lappy, but I'm not actually building anything. I'm just learning C# with it. Slow spinning platters and EMC cards and 2GB of RAM just don't make for a quality experience when you start working with a big project, sorry.

      Now here's the big "but..."

      That won't be true for very much longer.

  15. obarthelemy

    (note: editing a post makes it blank... I'm guessing it's a bug not a feature)

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