Last year, Google granted a new power to its notebooks (a.k.a. Chromebooks), the ability to run Android apps. Of course, the idea started with a very small number of apps being compatible with the platform. Now Google has brought this functionality to its desktop browser, Google Chrome. Which means you can now run most Android apps on Mac or Windows, within the Chrome browser.
Before we tell you how to do it for yourself, there’s a little bit of theory (über Android geeks might want to look away now, the following text might be cringeworthy for you). Android apps are meant to be run on the Android OS itself. However, Google recently introduced something called “App Runtime for Chrome”, or ARC, which enables native Android apps to run within the Chrome browser. But this isn’t the same, or as easy as installing Android apps from the Play Store and running them, because there’s a lot that goes on under the hood in an Android device, and the same level as of support isn’t (yet) possible on a desktop platform. Google’s move proves that it’s up to something- bringing Android apps to Chrome would open up a lot of possibilities for the apps and the developers. For now it’s in a very initial stage, just for you to check it out, and all apps may not work as you expect. Hopefully this technology will get refined over time and most of the apps that we use and love on our Android devices can make their way to the desktop as well.
So here’s how you can run most Android apps inside of Chrome, on a Mac or Windows based PC. Make sure you have Google Chrome installed (duh). Then head over to Chrome web store to download the ARC Welder app for Chrome (very witty name, Google). Once it’s installed, launch it from the Chrome app launcher.
On first launch, the ARC welder app would ask you to specify a directory for local storage. Click ‘Choose’ to select a folder on your computer and carry on with the process.
Now ARC Welder would ask you for an APK. We already explained that this process wouldn’t be as easy as installing an app from the Play Store (for now). Yet, adding an APK wouldn’t be that difficult either. Just so you know, APK is the file extension for Android apps, and most (if not all) of the apps in your Android device are essentially APK files. You can legally download APKs from the Play Store using the APK downloader (just give it the Play Store link of a free app and it would download the APK for you). Once you have an APK, click the ‘Add your APK’ button to locate it on your computer and load it.
After loading the APK, ARC Welder asks you in what orientation should the app run, what kind of device is to be emulated, and whether the app should have access to the clipboard or not. Once you’ve set the parameters, click ‘Launch App’.
And bingo, the app should be up and running.
It’s good to see how scrolling gestures work perfectly, and the app simply runs in an non-Android environment. While this is just a preview of what’s to come, and there are definitely a few performance issues, lack of supporting services (for instance, you might experience crashes when the app requires camera access), and limited functionality due to hardware (don’t expect to play Temple Run on it yet) — this is definitely a starting point in a new dimension for Google’s mobile services. The idea is to expand the apps to laptops and desktops, not just to those running Chrome OS, but also on Macs and PCs, as long as you have Google Chrome. Let’s see how Google shapes this up and where do the apps from Play Store end up running.