Just about a year ago at Google I/O, amid much fanfare, Google announced that Android Apps would be able to run directly on Chrome OS. It launched as a pretty rough-around-the-edges beta and has pretty much stayed that way ever since. Then, at CES, we were told that these apps would become more official alongside the launch of the Samsung Chromebook Pro — in April.
Check the calendar there, friends: it’s May now.
I don’t know if the two delays are related, but I suspect the bigger issue here isn’t Samsung, it’s Google. We did a deep dive on the state of Android apps on Chrome OS back in February and our takeaway: they are very far from ready. There were a multitude of issues that needed solving. Apps were jittery, broken, and most of all looked bad on big screens. Looking at more recent Chromebooks, little has changed on all of those fronts.
It makes sense that Google is taking some extra time to ensure that Android apps on Chrome OS are a better experience. For one, it’s not good enough to ship half-finished products and call them baked. For two, the pressure on Chrome OS to deliver something new and good is higher than it’s ever been: Microsoft just finished unveiling an all-new version of Windows designed specifically to take on Chrome OS in the education market. Microsoft has app problems of its own, of course, but the competition in the cheap laptop space is getting really serious. Google can’t afford to take its lead in the education space for granted.
When Android apps do finally leave beta, they’re hopefully going to be based on Android Nougat. That will allow for apps to be resized to any window size you like instead of limiting them to just tablet or phone layouts. Of course, we also need apps that actually look good at multiple sizes — and getting developers to recode their apps for that has been a challenge (to say the least) for Google. Even some of Google’s own apps still don’t look all that great on tablet-sized screens.
One thing to note: even if you’re not running a beta version of Chrome OS, you might still have Android apps available on your machine. Until fairly recently, to get the Google Play Store and its Android apps running on Chrome OS, you had to join the “Beta” channel. But now several Chromebooks have it available in the more mainstream “stable” channel. But that doesn’t mean Android apps on Chrome OS are out of beta. Google has a whole chart about which Chromebooks support Android apps here — it was updated a little over a week ago.
As for the Samsung Chromebook Pro, I don’t see any good reason for it to be delayed based on the hardware. We know that Samsung made a last-minute decision to switch the Pro’s color from silver to black, but otherwise nothing about the preproduction unit we looked at a few months ago was problematic. The stylus worked well, the machines were fast, and battery life was pretty good.
Anyway, we reached out to Samsung for comment. A Samsung spokesperson emailed to say that the “Chromebook Pro will be available later this spring. Chromebook Plus is available for purchase online and in-store now.”
We don’t know yet whether the release of the Chromebook Pro is still coupled to Android apps becoming official on Chrome OS. We do know that Google is going to need to bring it up at the big I/O developer conference later this month. We also know that, technically, the last day of spring this year is June 19th.