A few weeks back, Google announced that it would bring its Android app and Google Play Store ecosystems to Chromebook, dramatically improving the portable PC alternative. Now, the firm has released a video showing how these two platforms will work together. And this is bad news for Windows.
And as I expected, this Peanut Butter Cup pairing of two previously separate platforms—“two great tastes that go together”—is going to be disruptive. A few weeks before the Android on Chromebook announcement, I opined—in Can Google and Apple Pull the Plug on the PC Market?—that the post-PC world was closer than maybe most Microsoft fans were willing to accept.
“The future of personal computing, as we know it, is no longer being determined by Microsoft, I think,” I wrote at the time. “And it’s only a matter of time before Google and Apple step up to the plate with more mature mobile offerings that will spell real trouble for Microsoft’s desktop platform.”
Though that article focused on hybrid mobile platforms like Apple’s iPad Pro and Google’s Nexus C 2-in-1, Chromebook is of course part of the story as well. In fact, once Google adds Android apps and the Play Store to Chromebook, one could argue that Chromebook instantly becomes the most pressing and direct threat to Windows 10 on PCs.
But don’t lose sight of the plot here. Chromebooks were already a serious competitor to Windows 10 and traditional PCs. And that’s because they were designed to solve the same problems that Microsoft has been trying to solve since Windows 8, but using that ground-up model that I think will be more successful than Microsoft’s continued effort to simplify Windows “down” (if you will).
PCs have a bad rap for a good reason. They’re hard to use compared to simpler mobile computing devices like phones and tablets. They get slower and more unreliable over time. They’re insecure, and are never up to date. And they’re not affordable, unless you don’t mind getting a piece of crap.
While Microsoft struggled to solve these issues with its legacy Windows products, Google took a different approach and built a simpler new platform based on its Chrome web browser and some Linux “glue”. The goal: to make computing more accessible for everyone. Chrome OS and the Chromebooks on which it runs are fast, secure and simple, as Google claims. They boot quickly, are easy to set up, simple to use, and are secure and always-up-date. And for businesses and educational institutions, Chromebooks are easy to manage and share.
(Some will argue, correctly, that Chromebooks are also a bit simple-minded compared to PCs, not as sophisticated or powerful. While technically true, this argument is a red herring: Chromebooks do enough of what people want and need, and the benefits for the most part outweigh the negatives for most people. Windows PCs have a role for developers, gamers, and other power users. But Chromebooks scratch an important itch for mainstream users.)
Even without Android app and Play Store compatibility, Chromebooks are now made by all of the top PC makers, are outselling all other devices combined in education, and are experiencing strong growth in the enterprise, with adoption at large companies like Whirlpool, Toyota, and Pinterest. And as reported last month, Chromebooks are now the number two computing platform in the U.S., having outsold the Mac.
And now they’re getting even better. Seriously, Windows fans. Yikes.
“Obviously, [there’s been] a lot of interest lately on how Google’s two consumer computing platforms, Chrome OS and Android, could come together,” an unidentified Google presented notes in the recently posted video from Google I/O. “The approach we’ve taken generally is to take the best attributes of each and share it with the other.”
What that means to Chrome OS and Chromebooks is that Google will immediately solve a very serious problem facing both Windows and macOS: Apps. As you must know, Microsoft—to its credit—has been racing to solve this issue across Windows Phone, Windows 8.x, and now Windows 10, but has come up short repeatedly, and the Windows Store is still a wasteland compared to mobile app stores. (To be fair, Apple is even further behind: Macs don’t support touch, and the Mac App Store is terrible too.)
Put another way, Google is marrying mobile and PC in a way that Microsoft has promised but not delivered across Windows 8/10 and via Surface and related products. These devices are excellent … PCs. But the tablet part of the experience suffers because of the dearth of apps, and because of the low quality of most of the apps that do exist. (This is of course the trouble with Windows phone, which likewise suffers in the apps department, but can’t fall back on the availability of legacy Windows apps.)
In the Google video, Google director of product management Kan Liu walks through a very compelling demo of Android apps and the Google Play Store on Chromebook. (It starts at about 6:30 in the video.)
Some key points:
It’s just Chrome OS. Google isn’t releasing a new “thing” that combines Chrome OS and Android. Instead, Chrome OS is being updated to support the running of Android apps and the Google Play Store. So you’ll see a Play Store icon pinned to the shelf (Chrome OS’s taskbar).
All Play Store apps just work. Using the Google Play Store app on Chrome OS, you can browse Android’s app store just as you do on Android devices, and then install and run any apps you find there.
Seamless integration. The Android framework integrates nicely with Chrome OS. For example, Android notifications appear in the Chrome notification tray. Apps can save and load files from the Chrome OS file system just as they do on Android. And the Share functionality in Android apps works fine on Chrome OS as well. Android apps will work on both ARM- and Intel-based Chromebooks.
Android apps work offline. While critics don’t understand that many Chrome OS web apps work fine offline, it’s fair to note that many Chrome OS web apps still require an Internet connect. Well, many more Android apps do work offline, of course. And now they will do so on Chromebook too.
Microsoft suddenly has presence on Chrome OS. While you can already run several Microsoft web apps—like the Office Online apps—on Chrome OS, they lack sophisticated features like offline usage. But with Android app compatibility, Chromebook users will suddenly gain access to dozens of high-quality Microsoft apps, including Office Mobile apps that work just fine offline.
Chromebooks are getting Android hardware features. Google and its partners are and will continue to ship Chromebooks that include hardware features that Android apps expect or need. These include touch screens, of course, but also cellular connectivity and other features.
This is big, folks. And if you’re still unconvinced, be sure to watch the video.