A report in Ars Technica claims that Google will dramatically expand its App Runtime for Chrome (ARC) technologies to bring over one million Android apps to Chrome OS and Chromebooks. And to Windows, too.
The report is based on first-hand Reddit accounts from Chromebook users who say they’ve seen an “Enable Android apps to run on your Chromebook” onscreen, and Ars was able to replicate this event, lending further validity. One Reddit user began exploring the Chrome OS source code and came across this additional nugget:
Choose from over a million apps and games on Google Play to install and use on your Chromebook.
So why is this important?
Google announced ARC last year and shipped the first non-preview version in September. At that time, the result wasn’t exact earth-shattering, with a handful of Android apps, like Duolingo, being made available to Chrome OS and Chromebooks through the Chrome Web Store.
ARC was the source of a rumor that Google was plotting to combine Android and Chrome OS into a single OS, and while the firm didn’t really deny that when it tried to deny it, it’s clear that some combination (Android apps running on Chrome OS) is indeed in the making.
Running Android apps on Chrome OS is kind of a big deal because it solves the big problem with Chrome OS—lack of high quality apps—while also solving the big problem with Android, that it is not suitable for laptop-like devices with keyboards and pointing devices. It’s the old Reese’s Peanut Butter strategy: Two great tastes that go together. (See Windows 10 Mobile Continuum for another example.)
But ARC is also a Trojan Horse of another sort: Those Android apps won’t just run on Chrome OS and Chromebook, they’ll run on Chrome in Windows and macOS too. (And Linux, who cares?) As Ars explains, ARC can run on Windows thanks to the Native Client (NaCL), a Chrome sandboxing technology that allows Chrome apps and plugins to run at “near native” speeds, taking full advantage of the system’s CPU and GPU. Because Google ported a full Android stack to Native Client, it can run Android apps on Windows and other desktop OSes too.
With Google I/O just a month away, it’s pretty clear that we’ll be hearing a lot more about these plans soon. And that Android horde of apps might not just take over Chrome OS/Chromebook. It could materially impact the future of Windows as well. I’ve often argued that Android is the next Windows, and while there are a lot of reasons for that, it becoming a direct replacement is a scary proposition, especially when you consider the precarious nature of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). This is a development worth watching.