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The Fine Print Behind Android Apps on Chrome

June 26, 2014 - Written By Ray Greer

Google I/O 2014 showed us plenty of new things coming from Google. Android Wear, updates to Android TV, and Android L. Though there was one announcement that seemed to be a continuation from last years I/O. The announcement involved users being able to run Android apps on their Chromebooks, which run Chrome OS.

Some may recall last year’s Google developer conference also known as I/O when they talked about Chromebooks. The focus then was getting Chrome apps to run on Android devices. This seemed to be an easy task since Chrome OS apps are essentially websites. These websites take a task and give it an app like feel, right inside your Chrome browser. During last year’s I/O, Sundar Pichai, Senior Vice President at Google, showed off exactly how Google planned to help in this task. Now, this year, Pichai has flipped the goal and asks devs to get ready to move Android apps over to the Chrome OS.

Pichai didn’t seem to spend much time on this topic, but that doesn’t mean this is no big deal. Chromebook users everywhere surely know the frustrations of not being able to open Android apps on their Chromebooks. During the few minutes this feature did get, Pichai showed how Vine and Evernote will look on a Chromebook. Working seamlessly, you could see a Vine video play out in a window the shape of a smartphone. They also were sure to show that the Vine app on Chrome was able to access the mic and camera on the Chromebook. Pichai did mention that apps will not have to look any different, or be optimized for a bigger screen. Having Android apps available on a Chromebook, could drastically change the reception they have gotten in the past.

One of the few reasons Chromebooks may be passed up is the limitations and lack of apps available. Chrome OS is essentially just the internet after all, (though some things can be done offline) and most apps come in the form of extensions, or just links to a website. Download the Chrome OS Netflix app, and if you open it, you’ll be directed to the Netflix website. Android apps will definitely give more appeal to the Chromebooks. However, there was some fine print along with this announcement that sounded very similar to last years announcement on the reverse.

Last year, Pichai announced Chrome apps being ready for Android devices. However the developer needed to port the app. This year, Pichai didn’t exactly go into too much detail, however the word “port” was present in his speech. This means that Android apps will need to be ported over to the Chrome OS. Developers will have to do a bit of work in order to get their app up and running on Chromebooks-which may not happen. This means that Chrome OS will not simply get an extension of some kind that allows for apps to be opened on Chrome. Some developers may not exactly see a reason to put in the extra work for a small demographic of users.

Google plans on making the entire process easier for developers, but until then we may not see very many apps make the jump.