Google has slated Chrome OS 80 to finally deliver sideloading apps more easily without forcing users to switch over to the developer version of the operating system. That's according to recent reports, following the feature appearing in a Beta Channel of Chrome OS. Specifically, that's the current Dev Channel.
For now, it's only possible to access the new feature in Developer Mode and that may seem counterintuitive. But the changes reportedly suggest that won't be required once Chrome OS 80 goes live. At the very least, that won't be the case any longer on at least some devices with more devices being added over time.
That also means that, for now, using the feature isn't entirely advisable. Google has been working its way toward making Chrome OS more developer-friendly for some time now. In particular, the search giant wants to make it easier to develop for its own platforms via Android Studio in the walled-garden of Chrome OS. Included in that is the ability for developers to test their own apps on Android and Chrome OS on a Chromebook.
The entire process is somewhat more advanced than installing apps from third-parties on Android. It also paves the way for security breaches that aren't otherwise as big a threat.
What's the benefit of sideloading without developer mode?
The ability to sideload and test apps is an obvious advantage to developers. After all, one of Chrome OS's biggest drawbacks is that although it has Android apps, those aren't necessarily well-tuned. Chromebooks not only have larger screens, which have always presented a pitfall for Android. They additionally don't all feature touch screens and include a keyboard and mouse or touchpad.
Adding in the ability for developers to install and test apps outside of developer mode reduces the load on developers. That makes it easier to develop and test apps more quickly.
For end-users, it creates another opening through which users can broaden the app experience on Chrome OS. That isn't Google's intention in enabling sideloading. The company intends Chrome OS to be the most secure laptop operating system. But not only does that allow for apps to be downloaded that aren't on Android. It allows apps to be downloaded that are on Android but unavailable on Chromebooks.
Here's how you can try it for yourself now
Because the process for sideloading apps is intended for the tech-savvy developer community, that's not necessarily going to get easier either. Sideloading will most likely remain the case even after Chrome OS 80 lands in mid-February. But that doesn't mean it's impossible or that it isn't straightforward once the device is in Developer Mode.
The obvious prerequisite, because the process is meant for app developers, is that the Android SDK Platform Tools, including ADB, are installed. Those are typically downloadable as part of the Android Studio package. Android Studio is easy enough to install in the Linux partition of Google's Chrome OS platform with an alt-click or right-click. The file will simply need to be moved to the Linux directory of Files first.
Once installed, the ADB debugging tool will need to be enabled in the "Develop Android apps" category of the Chrome OS Linux settings. The Chromebook will restart. Then a Linux console will need to be opened and set up by running the command "adb connect 100.115.92.2:5555" to set up an ADB-over-WiFi server within the device.
The process from there is somewhat more familiar. APK files for Android apps will need to be downloaded from a trustworthy source to prevent problems. Those will need to be downloaded directly to or moved to the subsequent "platform-tools" folder. That can be found in the Linux directory in Files.
From there, the final step is to install the app using the "adb install" command followed by a space and the name assigned to the APK file, including the ".apk" extension. For example, "adb install redbox.apk" would be an appropriate entry. Most applications should be completely installed after that point and run as normal apps from the Chrome OS app drawer.