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Google urges developers to adapt Android apps for Chromebooks


Google Play Store on Chrome OS.
Enlarge / Google is putting more emphasis on Android apps on Chromebooks.

The number of people using Android Apps on Chromebooks grew 50 percent year over year, according to a blog post from Chrome OS product managers Fahd Imtiaz and Sanj Nathwani this week. The execs cited internal Google data recorded from 2020-2021.

In 2021, as some smartphones moved to Android 12, Google worked on updating Chromebooks to support Android 11, while attempting to boost security and performance by bringing Android on Chrome OS to a virtual machine, rather than a container. The company also improved its general usability, using runtime improvements to make the resizing and scaling of Android apps on Chromebooks work better, as well as app rendering.

As the developer-focused blog noted, Chromebooks on Chrome OS 93 or newer (the latest is Chrome OS 96) automatically run Android apps made for mobile devices in a window that’s set to stay in a “phone or tablet orientation.” And, yes, you can turn this feature off.

Additionally, Imtiaz and Nathwani pointed to Android’s Nearby Share feature coming to Chrome 96 for Android 11 and Android 9 apps as another way to try to get developers excited about making their apps fit devices with larger screens.

Google wants this to be devs’ priority

In May, Google reported that use of the 10-year-old operating system (OS) grew 92 percent over the last year, which was reportedly “five times the rate of the PC market.” At the time, Patrick Fuentes, Chrome OS’s developer relations engineering manager, said that made Chrome OS the “fastest growing and second most popular desktop OS.”

It’s clear that the OS is banking on Android apps to help continue that growth. In fact, this week’s blog asserted that “there’s no doubt adapting for larger screens will be a priority for developers in 2022.”

The blog highlighted ways to create new apps that would take advantage of Android on Chromebook, such as the Jetpack Compose 1.0, a UI toolkit, and Android Studio Chipmunk, a layout validation tool, aimed at making it easier to create adaptive layouts that work across different types of devices, from phones to desktop PCs.

Google also emphasized Chrome OS’s support of the Unity game engine for making Android games as advanced as RPGs.

“With Unity 2021, 2020, and 2019 LTS, you can support both x86 and x86_64 based-Chrome OS devices using your IDE to reduce duplicate code and streamline publishing,” the blog post said.

Looking ahead, tweaks to Chrome OS could eventually make Android’s presence on Chromebooks more seamless. A commit on the Chromium Gerrit spotted earlier this month points to Google working toward making Chromebooks less sluggish at startup by temporarily throttling the Android Runtime for Chrome Virtual Machine upon login, when it reportedly can gobble up to 300 percent of the processor’s resources for a few minutes.

Android 12L preview.
Enlarge / Android 12L preview.

Google

And looking further, Android 12L is currently in developer preview. As detailed in October, the OS is being marketed as optimized for screens larger than those found on smartphones, so the Chromebook angle is inherent.



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