To browser, or not to browser: Do we need Android apps on Chromebooks?

In early September, Google announced a new project called Apps Runtime for Chrome, which will gradually add Android apps to the Chrome Web Store, beginning with Vine, Duolingo, Evernote, and Sightwords. These were joined on October 9th by CloudMagic, Onefootball, and Podcast Addict.

Soon after, some developers began proactively finding their own channels for running other Android apps on PC operating systems—Windows, Mac, and Linux (Chrome OS included).

Recently, Adobe announced that they’d be generating a thin version of Photoshop for release on Chromebooks. The entry of organizations like Adobe in the Chromebook app market are encouraging signals that the Chromebook is the new work device.

After the first announcement, we reached out to our readers and asked what apps they’d love to see migrate to Chrome OS, including Twitter (non-browser), Skype, Learning Ally Audio, MX Player, Flipboard and Minecraft: Pocket Edition. With the Google giving so much attention to the new (and forthcoming) functionality, we became interested in exploring a couple questions: what apps should we be hoping for on Chrome OS? Moreover, what apps are even worth importing to this system?

Who stands to gain the most from Android apps on Chromebooks?

Don’t get us wrong, additional functionality is almost never a bad thing, but with the proverbial floodgates being opened for users to attempt and install .apk files on Chrome OS, it’s important to look at the Chromebook platform and note what sets it apart from Android devices.

No matter what you’re seeking from new functionality, the owners of touch-enabled Chromebooks have the most to gain from the influx of new Android functionality—obviously. With a wealth of acclaimed touch-based games and tools available to Android users, it isn’t hard to think of apps that would be a no-brainer to adapt for Chromebooks.

However, the touchscreen hasn’t become a standard feature for Chromebooks and doesn’t look like it will be in the near future, and a substantial number of apps such as Pixlr, Instagram, and Twitter already have fully-fledged desktop counterparts, and logically, these iterations of the software are optimized for use in a non-touch environment. It seems that the real key is to shape the Chromebook into a true computing device that isn’t entirely dependent on an internet connection.

So what types of applications should we be hoping for?

Considering that Chrome OS is intended to create a lean, streamlined platform that isn’t bloated with on-system software, you can tell that many of the developers of these browser-based “apps” created them as an alternative, either to common desktop applications, or bite-sized pieces of Android software. This becomes a hurdle when users are seeking a richer offline experience with their Chromebooks.

While many Google apps support an “offline mode”—allowing the app to function without an internet connection, storing the data locally, until the device is back online and able to sync itself with the online platform—this functionality isn’t a common quality of other Chrome OS applications. So what we need to see on Chromebooks isn’t necessarily an influx of Android “ports,” so much as a greater showing from developers to offer offline functionality in their applications.

Occupying an unique place between the tablet and the laptop, Chromebook users naturally want as much power and functionality as possible from their devices. It will be interesting to see what Adobe brings to the table with Photoshop for Chromebooks, and watching how it sets the stage for other processor-heavy software suites to bridge the Chromebook gap.
Where would you like to see Chrome OS go from here? Do you want more Android content on your Chromebook, or would you prefer that Chrome OS remains in a league of its own?

Posted in Chromebooks, Innovation and tagged , .

About

Luke Reynolds is a new member of Newmind's IT managed services team. Previously he worked with schools, not-for-profits, and businesses to help them acquire and deploy Google Chromebooks on the enterprise level. Luke Reynolds enjoys writing, music, film, and any form of radical human expression. He's also a rabid proponent of Kalamazoo's local roller derby team, the Killamazoo Derby Darlins.