If you’ve been keeping up with Google news, I bet you read
that Google’s Chrome OS — the web browser operating system that the company has been peddling since 2011 — might soon support Android apps directly from the Google Play Store.
Why is this a big deal? It’s simple. Chrome OS, as it currently exists, is little more than the Chrome browser with a keyboard, trackpad, and some local storage — typically around 16 or 32GB — attached to it. Sure, it runs anything that can run in the browser, and God knows nearly everything — WhatsApp, Netflix, Google Docs, Microsoft Office, Slack…I could go on and on — runs in a browser these days.
Even then, relying on a browser to do everything can be…rather limiting. Broadband in India is still dismal, and most people are still hardwired to “install” software on their laptops to be productive. Living in the cloud entirely — a prerequisite for using Chrome OS — isn’t something that most Indians are comfortable with yet.
I write about technology, however, so naturally, I went the cloud-only route since last year. You can read all about it here
, but here’s what I’m trying to say: I’m a favourable candidate to use a Chromebook as my primary computer, and now that it seems like Chrome OS might actually run full-fledged Android apps, things look more promising than ever before.
Last week I decided to take stock of all the apps I use on my Mac and see if they had any Android equivalents that I could run on a Chromebook to do anything that a web app or a Chrome extension cannot. Here’s what I found.
I’ll be curious to see how well the notifications of these Android apps will merge with the Chrome OS notification center. Will they support quick actions like they do on Android, for instance?
All this is speculation, but the bottom line is that Android apps coming to Chrome OS would be super helpful. I could actually switch from a MacBook to a Chromebook as my primary computer and not regret it. Sure, it may have just 32GB or 64GB of storage at most, but if I can do with that much storage on my phone, there’s no reason why it won’t be enough on a computer. And if you really need it, cloud storage is now inexpensive (Google Drive offers 100GB for ₹140 a month).
But the real question is what will I gain by moving to a Chromebook? And that’s probably a question anybody contemplating buying a Chromebook will strongly ask. Google’s talking points
about Chrome OS revolve around security, speed, hassle-free, easy syncing and sharing. But most of these things are covered when you buy a Mac too.
And then there’s the cost. Today, a laptop like the Chromebook Pixel is the ideal Chromebook I’ll want to buy. It’s got a pixel-dense display, it’s fast, has great battery life, a very usable trackpad and keyboard, and doesn’t weigh too much. But at almost ₹70,000, it’s only a few thousand rupees cheaper than a Retina MacBook Pro, which not only has all those features, but is also a real computer for the few times I need it to be one (editing video, or quickly connecting my printer, for instance). This is where my reasonable side will argue about going the safer route of buying a Mac instead of experimenting with thousands of rupees on a Chromebook. Granted, after the arrival of Android apps, the experiment will be safer but it will still feel like an experiment.
There’s no doubt that as the years go by, more and more people will realise the only real thing they need in a computer is a web browser, and Chrome OS might finally be good enough for everyone. But it will take more than just Android apps for Chrome OS to convince most of us today — Chromebooks can benefit from cheaper pricing, or from being more tightly integrated with your smartphone the way Apple does with the iPhone and the Mac, where users can use their Mac to make and receive calls from their iPhones, and send text messages.
Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, is less than two weeks away. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some big announcements around Chrome OS and Android.