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Here's how to run Android apps on Chrome with Google's new tool

Mark Hachman | April 6, 2015
Eventually, Google hopes, you'll be able to run potentially millions of Android apps within Chrome or Chrome OS once they're formally ported over. But you can get make that vision start to happen today--with a new Google tool called ARC Welder.

Eventually, Google hopes, you'll be able to run potentially millions of Android apps within Chrome or Chrome OS once they're formally ported over. But you can get make that vision start to happen today — with a new Google tool called ARC Welder.

This week, Google began more widely publishing a developer tool called App Runtime for Chrome, designed to allow developers to quickly port apps like VLC and others from Android to Google's Chrome OS. Chrome and Chrome OS have a small number of native apps, but lack the broad app support that Android does.

Then ARC Welder arrived on Thursday — a developer tool in the Chrome store that lets you to try out your own Android apps on Chrome or the Chrome browser. We tried it, and some of those Android apps work pretty well already. 

The story behind the story:  Let's make one thing clear: ARC Welder is a developer tool, designed to assist developers to port their Android apps over to Chromebooks and Chrome OS. (Developers can test apps on Chrome running on a PC, Mac, or Linux, but they can't be published to the Chrome Web Store.) Any Android app that you try to port over it will likely be glitchy, and there's a chance that it won't work, period. With that said, running Android apps on your Chromebook is fun, just to see what will work and what won't.

Track down some APKs

For testing, I used the recent Hisense Chromebook released by the Chinese manufacturer this week. I made sure that the Chromebook was upgraded to the latest version of Chrome OS, using the beta, rather than the stable channel. You'll need to download the ARC Welder app itself from the Chrome store, of course.

What ARC Welder does is is fairly straightforward: The app allows you to launch an Android app (packaged up as an APK file) within Chrome. The app simply intercepts instructions to and from an Android phone or tablet, and routes them through your computer. That means, of course, that apps that depend on location, the back-facing camera, or the orientation of your phone, won't work. (Fortunately, using the trackpad to simulate swipes and taps seems to satisfy an app that thinks it's living on a touch-enabled tablet or phone.)

To get an APK file, however, isn't necessarily that simple. Google doesn't want Android users to download APK files per se, but use the Google Play store instead. But there are at least a couple of sites that provide you APKs of some of the most popular apps, including AndroidAPKsFree.com and APKmirror.com. You should find it relatively easy to find and download APKs of Snapchat, Kik, or Clash of Clans, for example.

 

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