by Matt Kapko

Why Android on Chrome could have big impact on business

May 20, 2016
AndroidChrome OSComputers and Peripherals

Businesses that have overlooked Chromebooks due to software limitations now have a new reason to reconsider their decisions. Chrome OS devices will soon be able to run Android apps.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google this week took a big leap toward blending its two biggest OSes: Android and Chrome. The company did not merge the platforms, as was rumored last fall and subsequently denied by Google, but the distinctions between Chrome and Android apps will effectively expire starting next month. 

Chromebooks will get more powerful and more useful for enterprises as the devices gain access to a vast catalog of Android apps, according to Google. A trio of Chromebooks — the Asus Chromebook Flip and Acer’s Chromebook R11 and Pixel — will receive updates next month that will let them run Android apps, and the company says it will expand support to more Chrome devices later this year.

[Related: IT execs excited (but cautious) about merger of mobile, desktop OSes]

IT administrators will be able to manage Android apps from the Chrome admin console, according to Rajen Sheth, Google’s senior director of product management for Android and Chrome for Work. In addition to the more than 200 policies that are already available in the admin console, Google is adding new policies to let CIOs and IT professionals manage Android app installs, Sheth said at the annual Google I/O developer conference. The console also lets companies make apps available on a per-user basis.

Android apps get full Chrome access

Android apps on the Chrome OS will run in a Linux container so developers won’t have to make any changes to their existing apps for them to run on Chromebooks, according to Google. After apps are installed on Chromebooks, they get access to the entire Chrome OS file system, as well as key features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, notifications, offline support and touch input, where available.

Google Play, the world’s largest app store, will also be available on Chromebooks for the first time. Chromebook users currently have access only to Google apps, Web-based apps or basic website shortcuts that are available on the Chrome Web Store. 

About two million businesses use Google Apps for Work today, but according to Sheth some enterprises want to augment these options with apps such as Skype or Microsoft Word. So, for example if Google Hangout doesn’t work for an organization, Skype for Android, Slack or any other Android messaging app will soon be able to fill that void. Some teams may also prefer Android apps to Web apps because of their mobile-centric features, including push notifications and do-not-disturb rules.

[Related: Google doubles down on the enterprise at I/O]

Google put a lot of work into making Chromebooks more attractive to the enterprise in recent months and years, but app compatibility has been a glaring problem, according to Sheth. Google says it is confident Android apps on Chromebooks will be transformational for businesses that want to use the specific apps they prefer, he said.

Google says about half of the Chromebooks released during the last two years will eventually get Google Play access. However, some businesses with older machines will have to purchase new Chromebooks if they want access to Android and its massive developer community.