Android Apps on Your Chromebook

Android Apps on Your Chromebook 150 150 Kerry Butters

At Google I/O, the company’s developer conference in June, it was announced that Chrome OS will now support Android apps natively, and that Chromebooks will run them on-screen in their own windows.

Since most people who have Chromebooks also have phones, greater integration between Android devices and the Chrome OS should come as welcome news.

Great. When?

Sundar Pichai, Google’s Senior VP of Android, Chrome and apps, didn’t say when the feature would actually arrive.

“We’re in early days,” was his statement, at the conference. But he did demonstrate some of the functionality that Google proposes.

Integration, in Action

Pichai’s demonstration had a Chromebook Pixel using Android apps for Evernote, Flipboard, and Vine. The apps were displayed differently, with Flipboard showing up in an expanded window (as you might see on a tablet), and Vine appearing in a tall, phone-sized window.

Both Android apps run in their own windows, and can operate simultaneously – just like any other apps on the Chromebook. The new versions of Google Docs and Spreadsheets will also run in Chrome OS, natively.

And That’s Not All.

·   The apps can access local hardware. So, you could record a Vine from your Chromebook’s camera and post directly from the Chromebook, if you wanted. Or paste links and other content from your Chrome browser directly into the Evernote app, and have it sync back to the same app running on your tablet.

·   Chromebooks and phones will also be able to better communicate with one another. Notifications will appear on both devices natively, without third party apps. So, if you’re working on a Chromebook and your phone gets a new message or is running low on battery power, you’ll be notified on your Chrome OS device.

·   Android will be able to relay alerts for incoming calls, text messages and low battery warnings to the Chrome OS desktop through the Chrome Notification Centre. There’s still no word on if these notifications can be acted on, directly (e.g., answer a call alert from your desktop or reply to a text message) but it’s early days.

·   You’ll even be able to use your phone to automatically unlock and sign in to your Chromebook. Once the connection is set up, a paired phone will be able to unlock a Chromebook just by coming near it. The proximity-based ‘Easy Unlock’ feature means you can unlock the Chrome OS without having to manually sign in.

·   This function extends to wearables; a conference demo showed a Chromebook unlocking when a user’s Android watch was nearby.

·   From Google Play, you’ll also be able to download Android apps directly onto your Chromebook, and use them the same way you would on an Android phone or tablet.

A post on Google+ indicates that for now, the only approved apps are Vine, Flipboard and Evernote. Others will probably be added to the list before the feature launches, officially.

It’s Not All Good News – Yet

There’s still one big hurdle that Chrome OS will have to face when running Android apps: specifically, that the apps are designed for touchscreens, and most Chromebooks don’t have them.

True, Chrome OS has worked with touchscreens since the Chromebook Pixel was released last February. But the user experience hasn’t been especially good. Some apps are touch-friendly; others aren’t.

In addition, not all Chromebooks ship with touchscreens. So, the feature has been more of an option than an integral part of working with the operating system.

But, They’re Working On It

In early June 2014, a project for Google’s Chromium called Athena pointed toward big changes in the touch aspects of Chrome OS. Improved features included a virtual software keyboard, a card-based interface comparable to Google Now, and a new app launcher interface.

At the I/O conference, Google didn’t comment on what future Chromebooks from its development partners will look like, but it does seem likely that more of them will be shipping with touchscreens. Touch input looks set to become a far more integral part of the Chrome OS.

The popularity of the Chromebook device has been growing rapidly. From recent sales, all 10 of the top 10 highest rated laptops on Amazon are Chromebooks. 

With enhanced Android integration, Google looks set to give the product line a major boost.

Top 5 Things to Know about Android L

Top 5 Things to Know about Android L 150 150 Kerry Butters

At Google’s most recent developer conference in San Francisco the company revealed its new mobile OS. The Android update is dubbed “L” or Lollipop and it sits within an emerging range of interconnected Google devices and software ensuring ease of communication between devices.

Let’s have a look then at some of the new approaches to the Android OS and how those may better the experience of this mobile software. This is this is the biggest Android update in a very long time.

New Look

Android 5.0 (or L) looks very different to the current Android 4.4 interface. L is much more vibrant than the current Android OS and it uses interface layers to provide a sense of depth.

The new interface on Android’s L is called Material and it looks markedly different to recent trends in mobile UI design. Everything has been about making icons appear flat and simple. Material is definitely simplistic in design but it’s not flat.

Android 5.0 L introduces real-time generated shadows for elements of the mobile interface. It adds a great aesthetic to the OS and it provides some of the visual tactility of iOS 7.

Better communication between devices

Google wants Material to be an OS that integrates easily with tablets, desktops, and laptops. Really Google wants to have that seamless out-of-the-box communication between devices that has always been Apple’s calling card. The iPhone, iPad, and MacBook will soon have stiffer competition from Google’s own equivalents – this even extends to Apple TV as Android TV is on its way.

The idea it seems is to develop a Google universe and the Android portable, mobile platform will be just one of many novel, innovative, and well integrated Google devices.

Better and redesigned Gmail

Google apps have received much the same treatment as the Android interface. Everything has been redesigned and updated. Gmail is no exception and colour has been injected into the Gmail application. The appearance is now much cleaner and much more modern.

The squared off edges of the traditional Gmail application icon have been rounded off and upgraded to a circular form.

This updated interface can also be seen in the new lock screen notifications. Notifications will now show up as a little bar across the screen rendered in high-contrast making them crystal clear. There are now four different notification areas meaning that multiple messages can be displayed on the lock screen at the same time.

Android is now 3D

This is really just a minor stylistic tweak but now in Android 5.0 the multitasking menu appears as a 3D cascade of app tiles. This replaces the 2D scroll of apps and it looks quite similar to the tabs screen on Android’s Chrome browser.

Chrome looks much cleaner on Android – its sharper, simpler, and utilizes those new real time shadows.

Google search is now better integrated

Developers can now have specific and integrated links to their laps appearing in the place of websites on web searches. Users will now be able to head directly to a specific part of an app straight from the Chrome browser on your phone.

Again this isn’t a particularly new feature but it does increase its exposure. Now it’s available to developers in general and as it comes from Google you don’t have to worry about being linked to a dodgy app. Just like it does with its search results for generic websites, it will also rank good applications more highly than others.

64-bit CPU support

This isn’t a surprise really and developers were well aware that this would be introduced in 2014. 64-bit CPUs will now be designed to work with Android devices.

This will make a big difference to the functionality and speed that Android phones work at. This upgrade will let many more instructions take place simultaneously and having 64-bit CPUs will ensure that Android devices can make much more use of the pre-installed RAM.

Smartwatch as authentication

A really nice touch is the ability to utilise Android Wear watches to bring your Android 5.0 L phone out of standby. Android Wear works as an authentication tool meaning you won’t need a password to unlock your phone if you’re wearing your watch.

There’ll also be some new battery features including a reworked Batter Saver mod. Android 4.4 falls behind the competition here as phones like the Galaxy S5 have very well developed power-saving modes – the current Android 4.4 battery saver is fairly rudimentary to say the least.

With the updates to Android mobile OS on the way and the new applications in the form of Android TV, Android Wear, and Android Auto mark Google as a company with big designs. The new Google universe is one that intends to compete with Apple for the lion share of users’ digital experiences and lives.