Running Android apps on the desktop has been a longtime dream of many developers, who believe such a thing will open up their software to a whole new audience. And Google has done its best to oblige that desire. In 2014, the company made Chrome OS, its operating system for desktops and laptops, interoperable with a small handful of Android apps; a year later, it released ARC Welder, a tool for porting Android apps to Chrome OS.
Now comes the next stage in the progression of Android apps to PCs: Google has announced that all Chromebooks (devices that run Chrome OS) launching in 2017 will support Android apps. In addition, the company continues to add support for Chromebooks already on the market. “While we won’t be able to bring Android apps to every Chromebook ever made, we’re continuing to evaluate more devices based on a range of factors, like processor type, GPU, and drivers,” read the text accompanying Google’s list of supported devices.
Will porting Android apps onto Chromebooks give Google more of an advantage in the PC wars? That’s a complicated question. For starters, those apps were designed for mobile devices; it remains to be seen whether the majority of users truly want to use their trackpad (or mouse) and keyboard to navigate UX designed for fingers and smaller screens.
Second, the definition of a PC is changing. Take Apple, for example: While it lets traditional PCs such as the Mac Pro age without an update, the company continues to push a vision of computing that’s centered on portability—and includes not only the MacBook Pro, but also the iPad with a keyboard. In similar fashion, Microsoft is marketing its flagship Surface Book as a full-fledged laptop, even though the device is a hybrid capable of transforming into a touch-screen tablet. In this evolving world of extra-large smartphones, tablets with detachable keyboards, and hybrid laptops, there’s an increasingly blurry line between “PC” and “mobile device.”
That means Google already has a significant lead in what might be more accurately called the “computing” (rather than the “PC”) space. According to data from StatCounter, Android controls 37.8 percent of the overall operating system market—well ahead of Windows, Apple’s iOS, and MacOS.
For the narrow segment of that market that represents Chromebooks, increased support for Android apps could persuade a few users to switch from a rival device the next time they need to refresh their hardware. It may also compel some Android developers to build their products with an eye toward larger screens than smartphones and tablets. But Google isn’t exactly in dire straits when it comes to getting its operating system (and Android developers’ apps) into folks’ hands.