MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google has now confirmed what its developer conference schedule only hinted at: Android apps are coming to Chromebooks.
You'll have to wait a bit before you can start Snapchatting on your Chrome OS-based laptop, but Google told attendees at a Google I/O session today (May 19) that the feature will start rolling out in its developer channel with the M53 build for the Asus Chromebook Flip, the Acer Chromebook R11 and the latest Chromebook Pixel. Support for other Chromebooks will follow.
When the feature does arrive, you'll have a Play Store icon pinned to your Chromebook's bottom shelf. Click the icon and you'll be able to browse through the app store on your Chromebook just like you would be able to on an Android device.
The experience of running an Android app on a Chromebook should be no different. In a session detailing the ability of Chromebooks to run Android apps, Chrome product manager Kan Liu showed off a Chromebook running Photoshop Mix using the laptop's touchscreen controls as well as Clash of Clans. The apps popped up in a window on the Chromebook screen, looking exactly like they would on an Android device.
Google Play on Chromebooks will include support for in-app purchases, which will certainly appeal to app makers. Android apps will also be able to run offline, which will please Chromebook users.
Google was quick to point out that this it wasn't using emulation or a virtual machine to bring Google Play to Chromebooks: Rather Chrome OS is running the full Android framework natively at full speed with no performance penalties.
That means, in theory, that Chromebooks might also be able to benefit from Android Instant Apps, another feature announced here at Google I/O that will give users access to some features of an Android app without having to download the whole thing. Liu says that the feature hasn't been tested on Chromebooks yet, but since this the full Android framework has been integrated into Chrome, Instant Apps should work as well.
School admins fearing their classroom Chromebooks are about to be loaded down by games shouldn't fret, Google says. Access to Google Play will be optional, with admins having the ability to switch access on and off. They'll also be able to whitelist apps that are approved for download.
The ability to run Android apps on Chromebooks has been a long-time coming. In April, Ars Technica found that some Reddit users noticed a checkbox that allowed for Chromebooks to run Android apps under settings; that feature later disappeared. Earlier this week, 9to5 Google spotted an I/O session description on how Android developers could bring their apps to the Chromebook.
One of the biggest draws to Chromebooks is simplicity: just about everything you do on these laptops takes place inside the browser. Adding the Play Store will add a ton of utility, including a number of great apps — something Google hopes will appeal to businesses thinking of adding more Chromebooks.