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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.

For testing, I tried downloading three Android apps: VLC, Microsoft's SmartGlass for Android, and Hill Climb Racing, a simple physics-based driving game.

Unfortunately, ARC Welder only supports one app at a time, so don't expect to run a multitude of Android apps simultaneously, as you might do on your smartphone. When you open the app, it will ask you for the name of the APK you wish to run — and close any other Android apps that it has running. Opening an APK is as easy as clicking on it, however, then selecting what mode to run it in. You can choose to run the app in phone mode, for example — but there's little incentive too, especially as your PC display is oriented in landscape mode, like a tablet. Your best bet is to tell ARC Welder to open the app in tablet mode, and in landscape; whether you choose to maximize the app to take up your entire screen is up to you.

Glitches ahoy!

I was surprised at how well Android apps translated to my Chromebook screen — and what unexpected glitches resulted. VLC, for example, seemed to run just fine — but the app defaults to an Android file structure, so actually finding a video file on your hard drive proved impossible without knowing the path to the file system. (Unfortunately, I didn't.) And when I tried to select a networked video stream, the app crashed.

I had better luck with the SmartGlass app, which I was able to log into using my Microsoft account. Unfortunately, the version of the app published to the APKMirror site was the Xbox 360-specific version of the app; I own an Xbox One. When I tried to download the One version, the app directed me to Google Play. Stymied!

Finally, I tried Hill Climb Racing, a relatively simple driving game where you're tasked to accelerate and brake to control a jeep across a series of hills and jumps. And to my surprise, it worked very well. I couldn't connect to the Google billing services to buy virtual currency, but the game otherwise ran smoothly. It's not exactly like an Android tablet, of course; I had to mouse over the icons for gas and break instead of tapping on them. 

Please don't consider ARC Welder to be a one-stop utility for running Android apps on Chromebooks or Windows — it's simply not. It might not even be at the level of beta software. But as a vision of what Android apps might look like within the Chrome ecosystem, it's eye-opening.

 

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