As expected, Android apps on Chromebook launch with bugs

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The Play Store is officially on Chrome OS. More precisely, it is out for one device – the ASUS Chromebook Flip – and only on the developer’s release channel. This means that the bugs are yet to be found and fixed. This was expected as the initial announcement stated that the integration of Android apps on Chromebook will begin in the beginning of June but it will stretch over a few months. As of now, users can get a general experience with Android apps on Chrome as they have just launched.

Installation

The install of Android apps on a Chromebook is just like you would do it on your phone. When it comes to removing Android apps, you should note that while you install them the “normal” Android way, uninstalling them is a little different than you might be used to. Here’s the skinny.

To install an app, you use the Play Store. That’s where all the Android apps are stored and it’s where you head to find them. When you installed the Play Store on your Chromebook, it dropped an icon shortcut in your taskbar. If you click on it, you’ll be taken to Google Play. You can search for a particular app, or look through the curated lists like the new or popular apps, but no matter how you get to an app’s page, the install process remains the same — click the button that says “Install.” Give it a minute and you’re done, and ready to give it a try.

But what if you decide you want to uninstall an app? Finding its page in the Play Store can be tedious if you have a long list of installed apps, and there is an easier way.

Chrome has a place where applications stay just like Android does. The way to get there is a bit different, though. Click or tap on the magnifying glass in your taskbar, and a window will open. At the top is a row of icons where your recently used apps live, as well as one for all apps at the far right. If you scroll down, it transforms into a Google Now page if you opted in. If you click or tap on the All apps icon, your “app drawer” opens.

If you’ve installed a lot of apps, either from the Chrome store of from the Play Store (that’s one too many stores and I’ll bet Google merges them eventually) you’ll probably have more than one page. You can swipe through them with your trackpad or with your finger on a touchscreen. Find the app you want to uninstall, and right click it. With a trackpad, right click is a two-finger tap. With a finger, it’s a long-press. When you do any of these things, and application menu will open. One of the entries in this menu is the uninstall option. If you tap or click on it, poof — the app is gone. You don’t get a warning box to ask if you’re sure you want to uninstall, so make sure you want to uninstall an app before you go tapping things.

The bugs

Because the Chromebook Flip doesn’t do phone calls or SMS, doesn’t have GPS and doesn’t have a rear camera, naturally it works differently from your smartphone. Thus, apps requiring those things will not show up as compatible in the Play Store. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t work necessarily, it just means you can’t hit the “install” button in the store.

So, what works well? You boot up your Chromebook and suddenly a Play Store icon appears in the taskbar. You click on it: Play Store – signed in and everything. You accept the terms and you’re set to go. Voice search works quite well.

Android apps run in windows on Chrome OS. The windows can be set to maximized view, but are otherwise not resizable. This will eventually change with Android N. There is a little app or big app mode, the former of which takes up about 70% of the total screen area. Video apps generally won’t keep playing videos in the background when the moment you take focus off them. This is not like a true Android desktop experience.

Some apps will naturally be much more suited for Chrome OS than others, particularly games. If you have a touchscreen Chromebook, you may forget your Android phone or tablet even exists if you’re typically using it for gaming. Chromebooks have massive batteries and displays compared to most smartphones and even many tablets, and the CPU and GPU generally don’t need to be throttled much because of the much larger area afforded for heat dissipation. Whether all games will work is far from tasted at this point, because developers still have to optimize the apps for this new users experience.

From another angle, most Android apps are designed specifically with touch interfaces in mind and you will find that some apps are simply frustrating to use with a mouse and keyboard.

There are the sort of usability issues you probably wouldn’t think about until actually trying this thing out. Where do you put your Android apps? In a folder? Well, Chrome OS doesn’t really do desktop stuff.

There are also upsides to Android apps on Chrome OS. Even on a slower Chromebook, Android apps are pretty quick and responsive. The number of crashes is admittedly high, but a lot of stuff – particularly Google’s – just works. Games are a huge deal for a lot of people with this update, as are things like media player and social apps. Now, you can run Microsoft Word on a Chromebook now – and not in some web interface. But it’s still very much early days.

For now, Chrome OS’s Play Store remains mostly an experiment and a way to play games. It can be useful for much else, but it’s so early to enjoy the novelty so far.

There are reports on the web about other bugs users are already finding on the Play Store. And for something as ambitious as this new feature is, it actually feels about as fully-baked as it could be out of the box. A lot of the shortcomings of Android apps on Chromebook right now are on the apps themselves, but the popularity of Chromebooks will encourage developers to respond to and optimize for this new user base. There is an exciting potential.

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