Chromebooks are about to get a lot more useful with the addition of Android app support. Google is set to release an update to its Chrome OS operating system to allow users access to millions of Android apps through the Play Store. (And, if you're looking for the best Chromebook to buy, we've got you covered.)
Google is adding Android app support to Chrome OS to fix two of the biggest complaints about the operating system: the lack of apps and better offline support. Web apps have had offline support for a long time, but they're still not optimized for offline use.
Apps, on the other hand, are better designed to work offline with interface elements that are stored locally on a computer, rather than needing to be retrieved from the internet. By adding offline capabilities, Google will help Chromebooks feel more like traditional laptops that aren't crippled when there's no internet connection.
Android support on Chrome OS will be limited at first. For now, apps will only be able to run in their portrait orientation like on a phone, or in landscape like a tablet app. However, users will be able to drag and resize the app to fit anyway you'd like. Notifications will also be handled through the Chrome notification area so you won't have to look for notifications in different places.
Google will start rolling out the Play Store and in its developer channel for the ASUS Chromebook Flip, Acer Chromebook R11 and the latest Chromebook Pixel. Google is limiting release to these select Chromebooks because they have touch screens that will allow users to use Android apps without proper keyboard support. The company will add support for more Chromebooks as developers update their apps to work properly with Chrome OS.
A tale of two operating systems
With Android apps running on Chrome OS, questions about why they don't merge will inevitably crop up again.
Previous rumors stated that Android and Chrome OS would eventually merge, but that doesn't seem to be the case just yet. Google says it's still fully committed to Chrome OS, as it offers an interface tailored more for productivity than Android on a tablet.
"The big difference between a tablet and a Chromebook is the trackpad, doing things with precision, it's a lot easier to use a mouse editing a document," says a senior product director for Chrome Kan Liu speaking with Engadget.
Android N is bringing split-screen multitasking to Android, but it's still much more limited than the multi-windowed experience most people are used to on their laptops and desktops. Apple's iOS 9 also supports split-screen multitasking but the iPad Pro hasn't taken off as a productivity machine as many apps still don't support the feature.
Chromebook users will be happy with the addition of Android apps, but it may not be enough to convince the uninitiated to jump aboard the Chrome OS bandwagon.
- Check out the 10 best Chromebooks you can buy right now