Chromebooks Now Can Run Android Apps - InformationWeek

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9/12/2014
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Chromebooks Now Can Run Android Apps

Only four Android apps now run on Chrome OS, but Google insists there will be more.

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Google Chromebooks can finally run Android apps, or at least a few of them.

Google software engineer Ken Mixter and product manager Josh Woodward on Thursday announced the availability of four Android apps that have been selected for life in Chrome OS: Duolingo, Evernote, Sight Words, and Vine. These Android apps can now be installed on Chromebooks through the Chrome Web Store.

"These first apps are the result of a project called the App Runtime for Chrome (Beta), which we announced earlier this summer at Google I/O," said Mixter and Woodward in a blog post. "Over the coming months, we'll be working with a select group of Android developers to add more of your favorite apps so you'll have a more seamless experience across your Android phone and Chromebook."

Android developers cannot yet convert apps on their own and make them available in the Chrome Web Store. App Runtime for Chrome (Beta), as its name suggests, remains unfinished and Google is currently assembling a list of Android apps to adapt for Chrome OS, based on user feedback.

[Learn how Google is giving assistance to people with vision impairments. Google Makes Apps More Accessible.]

For now, Google is considering only free Android apps, possibly because different revenue-sharing arrangements in Google's two app stores could encourage Android publishers to steer customers toward the Chrome Web Store, to the detriment of Google Play and Android. Developers keep 70% of revenue in Google Play and 95% in the Chrome Web Store.

Google has not provided any indication about when it will make additional Android apps available. But the company's intent is to support Android developers that want their apps to be available on Chrome OS, a Google spokesperson said in an email.

For those who cannot wait until that support arrives, Google has made portions of App Runtime for Chrome (Beta) available as open-source software. Experienced developers can try preparing Android apps for Chrome OS on a machine running Ubuntu Linux 12.04 or 14.04.

App Runtime for Chrome (Beta) allows Android apps to be run on Chromebooks through Native Client (NaCl), a technology that allows native application code to be run safely (sandboxed) inside the Chrome browser. Developers do not need to modify their application code, though doing so may be advisable if the mobile app in question relies on interface conventions that don't translate well to a device with a keyboard like a Chromebook.

NaCl remains controversial among developers, particularly those focused on the Web. Mozilla COO Jay Sullivan in 2010 dismissed native apps in the browser and reiterated the company's focus on open Web technology. The company subsequently introduced a technology called asm.js as a way to make Web code perform at speeds comparable to native code.

Though Google continues to develop innovative Web technologies like Polymer, concern persists that Google's evident focus on native Android code is inhibiting the growth of Web technology, which has been unable to emerge from the shadow of native mobile platforms.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
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9/15/2014 | 12:33:17 PM
Re: Chrome and Android
Part of the reason Google maintained two OSes may have been in case the Oracle lawsuit against Android went badly wrong. But there are other rationale. I doubt when Chrome OS was first envisioned that its relationship with Android was planned out.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/12/2014 | 4:05:24 PM
Re: What's the advantage for the Chromebook user?
It's a bit of both. Android apps on Chrome OS should be faster than the Web app equivalent (native code in Native Client vs. Web app code that has not been optimized for speed, via asm.js for example), but that's largely theoretical since Android and Web apps have different codebases (and thus aren't directly comparable) and since Web versions for these services (ie: Evernote) differ from the Android versions.

But Google does make Chromebooks more valuable to users by making Android apps accessible.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/12/2014 | 3:57:50 PM
Re: Chromebooks
I got Chromebooks for my daughters for the security and maintenance benefits -- in other words, I don't have to do anything to keep them running. 
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/12/2014 | 10:39:03 AM
What's the advantage for the Chromebook user?
Do these Android apps run faster than equivalent Web apps? Or better offline performance? Or is this a matter of boosting the library of apps for Chromebook?
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/12/2014 | 9:48:11 AM
Chromebooks
My middle-school daughter is using Chromebooks this year in class, replacing netbooks of year's past, and she has been raving about them. Biggest appeal seems to be instant-on. 
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