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.

10 Reasons Why Your Business Should Consider Chromebooks

10 Reasons Why Your Business Should Consider Chromebooks 150 150 Kerry Butters

Modern businesses have a huge amount of choice when it comes to technology products these days. The power of the cloud means that less storage space on the device is needed now, which further increases choice. It’s possible now to work on wafer thin devices that need very little in terms of power, or of course you can choose to have a laptop or a device that’s powered almost entirely by the cloud.

What IS a Chromebook?

Chromebooks are lightweight laptop computers which run on Chrome OS, an operating system made by Google. Designed primarily to be used online, they’re best suited to professionals who already use services like Gmail and Google Docs.

The Chrome OS

Chrome OS is similar to Windows or Mac OS X, but sits on a Linux platform. It’s essentially a souped-up form of the Google Chrome Web browser.Chrome OS does not run regular desktop software, relying instead on Web-based applications. This means Google Docs, Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, and the like. If you’re working without an internet connection, the OS enables Google Drive’s offline mode, by default.

Why Have One?

Here’s your 10 reasons, as promised:

1. They’re Inexpensive

With the gradual demise of Windows XP, the market is ripe for a low-cost alternative. Prices vary, but essentially the Chromebook is a $200 computer. Even the highest-end Chromebooks will run you as little as $250, if you know where to shop for them.

2. They’re Lightweight, but…

Typically, Chromebooks weigh a little over a kilogram. Yet they boot up in less than 10 seconds. The Chrome OS itself is lightweight, and runs smoothly – even on mediocre hardware.

3. They’re Long-Serving

Windows notebooks might give you 4 hours of active time on a single charge cycle – if you’re really lucky. A Chromebook can give twice that amount. Newer Chromebooks can last an entire workday – up to 9.5 hours – on one battery charge.

4. They’re Secure

The Chrome OS has built-in virus and malware protection. Files are stored in the cloud, and the Chromebook file system is locked down with eCryptfs encryption.

5. Free Storage and Software

With the purchase of most Chromebooks, you’ll get an additional 100 GB of storage in Google Drive, free for two years. You of course get access to Google Docs, Google’s free suite of office software. Google Docs can open Microsoft Office files and export to Microsoft file formats.

Along with Google Docs, Google Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar, you can also download non-Google apps from the Chrome Web Store, most of which are free. Examples include Evernote, Dropbox, Netflix, and eBay. Increasingly, many now work in offline mode, too.

6. Full-Size Keyboards

Not as trivial as it sounds. Chromebooks have physical keyboards (minus a few standards, like the Delete key) on a par with laptops – unlike the tablets to which they’re often compared. Better ergonomics translates to increased productivity in the workplace.

7. Television Output

Most Chromebooks can be connected to an HDTV via an HDMI output port. This enables you to play a YouTube video (or similar) on your Chromebook, while watching it on your big-screen TV. A plus, for presentation purposes.

8. Cloud Dividends

With Chromebooks, IT staff can radically reduce the amount of time spent “keeping the lights on”, for devices. This translates to higher uptime, lower service costs, and greater control of the deployment of Web-based applications and content.

9. Ease of Use

If you know your way around a Web browser (Chrome, in particular), you’ll know how to use a Chromebook. This reduces the need for training, and the speed with which Chromebooks can be deployed. 

10. Supervised Accounts (a.k.a. Parental / Management Controls)

Chromebook users can create supervised accounts to track or limit online activity for certain users. You can also synchronise all your apps and passwords with Chrome browsers on other computers. So, if you use Chrome at work, you can sync all data to your Chromebook at home, automatically.

There’s support for multiple users, and an option for 3G/4G connectivity for mobile working.

Bonus: They’re Low-Maintenance

No lengthy waiting periods for OS patches, upgrades, antivirus or anti-malware installs. Chromebooks update themselves in the background, automatically and silently.

There are Some Drawbacks…

Most notably, the fact you can’t use “traditional” desktop software. And the need to be perpetually online (preferably with Wi-Fi), and logged into your Google account, to keep your files updated. Google Docs’ offline mode re-syncs your data once you return to the web, though.

There’s no Skype, but you can use Google Hangout, as a videoconferencing equivalent. Also, no Photoshop, and no professional-level video editing suite.

Chromebooks typically only have between 16 and 32GB of on-board storage. There’s no direct printing facility, either. You have to go via Google’s Cloud Print service.

Ubuntu: Best of Both Worlds

Not the title to a video game. Rather, a strategy whereby you can enjoy Office-style applications on your Chromebook desktop. Offline.

Chrome OS is a derivative of Linux, so you can run both environments simultaneously, switching between the two via a hotkey. And as an extreme security measure, you can wipe the whole system with the press of a button to boot.

You can do this by installing Ubuntu, via a command line using Crouton. Both products are free, and open-source.

What’s Out There?

Chromebooks are currently available from HP, Lenovo, Acer, and Samsung, in a range of prices and specs. Armed with your new knowledge of what Chromebooks can do, you can make your choice by clicking here