Google began adding support for the Play Store to Chromebooks last spring, but the rollout has been very, very slow. At first, only a few ARM-powered Chromebooks had support, then Google’s own Pixel 2 was added. Now, many recent Chromebooks have gotten the Play Store, at least in the developer channel. Google is going a step further today, announcing that all Chromebooks that debut in 2017 and beyond will include support for running Android apps.
Chromebooks are designed to rely almost exclusively on web apps and various online tools. Almost everything is accessed via Chrome, which exists inside a stripped down Linux environment. This is great in a lot of ways — it keeps the machine lightweight, secure, and fast; plus all your data is backed up online. If you lose that particular device or need to use another Chromebook for a short time, you can simply log in and have all your stuff ready to go.
This approach to computing is usually convenient, but it’s limiting. Something as simple as editing documents offline or playing a game can become a challenge. Adding support for Android apps instantly gives Chromebooks a plethora of software to choose from. Granted, not all of it is optimized for a computer interface, but much of it works surprisingly well. The key is finding apps that have been optimized for Chromebooks or just don’t rely on touchscreen-only interaction. Some useful apps that run well include the free Microsoft Office suite and VLC media player. If you’ve already used Android with your account, you’ll have access to a ton of content as all your past purchases will be available on the Chromebook.
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Several new Chromebooks were announced at CES this year, including two models from Acer and a few from Samsung. All those machines will ship with the Play Store pre-installed and ready to go. That means it will be part of the stable channel of Chrome OS. You still need to be on beta or dev to get Android apps on many existing Chromebooks. You can check the Chromium Project page for details on which devices have support.
Google guarantees Chrome OS updates for five years from a device’s launch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all the Android apps that come out during that time with work. Google is also rumored to be working on a different project called Andromeda that will merge parts of Chrome OS into Android for a more compelling large-screen experience. This is still unofficial, so it might never come to be. Chromebooks are a hit, though, so Google will continue with rolling out Android apps in 2017.