Google’s Chromebook strategy moves forward with support for Android apps

Chromebooks just got a lot more interesting because Android apps now run on the Chrome OS laptops. Google first announced an experiment to get Android software on its Chrome OS devices back in June, even showing off one of them on stage. Details were scant at the time but on Thursday, Google shed more light on the process: It built special software that runs on top of Chrome OS called the Android Runtime for Chrome.

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This runtime is the secret sauce for getting the Android apps to run on a non-Android device. ArsTechnica asked Google about the details and got this response:

The app code is all running on top of the Chrome platform, specifically inside of Native Client. In this way the ARC (Android Runtime for Chrome) apps run in the same environment as other apps you can download from the Chrome Web Store, even though they are written on top of standard Android APIs. The developers do not need to port or modify their code, though they often choose to improve it to work well with the Chromebook form factor (keyboard, touchpad, optional touchscreen, etc).

The ARC is a beta at the moment and [company]Google[/company] appears to be taking the process slowly. Today there are just four Android apps available in the Chrome Web Store: Evernote, Vine, Duolingo, and Sight Words. Google said it will work with select Android developers as the ARC continues to mature.

In theory, any Android app could run on a Chromebook via ARC without the app developer porting or modifying the software. However, Android apps are designed with touch in mind and not every Chrome OS device has a touchscreen, for example. In these cases, a developer would need to modify the input methods to work with mouse, trackpad and/or a keyboard.

Regardless, the Android Runtime for Chrome opens up a possibility that many Chromebooks owners have long dreamed of: Getting more apps on their devices. Obviously, we’ll have to see how the ARC pans out for users and developers alike, but the idea of adding hundreds of thousands of existing Android apps to Chromebooks strengthens the case for Chrome OS as a way for Google to sway people away from traditional computer operating systems such as [company]Microsoft[/company] Windows and Mac OS X.