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Run any Android app on your Chromebook with this hack

Chris Hoffman | Sept. 23, 2014
Google is currently working with a handful of developers to bring a few Android apps to Chrome OS--but why wait for the pokey process to bear fruit? You can run any Android app on your Chromebook today. Chat on Skype, play Minecraft Pocket Edition, or read the latest news in Flipboard; it's all possible, with a little help from Linux.

Google is currently working with a handful of developers to bring a few Android apps to Chrome OS — but why wait for the pokey process to bear fruit? You can run any Android app on your Chromebook today. Chat on Skype, play Minecraft Pocket Edition, or read the latest news in Flipboard; it's all possible, with a little help from Linux.

Here's how it works: Google created a "runtime" that allows any Android app to run on Chrome OS. To test it out, it released four Android apps — Vine, Evernote, Duolingo, and Sight Words — that are now on the Chrome Web Store. Installing one of these apps will get you the runtime, and then you can "sideload" an Android app and run it on your Chromebook.

Google's goal is to get every Android app running on a Chromebook. In practice, the runtime is still in development and some apps crash — especially since Google's Android backend services aren't present on a Chromebook — but many apps already work just fine. Apps that use the microphone and camera even have access to your Chromebook's microphone and camera. Android app notifications appear in Chrome's notification center, too.

Getting started

First, install one of the four official Android apps — like Kids Sight Words — from the Chrome Web Store. Try the app and ensure it works on your Chromebook. Installing this sample app will also install the Android runtime for Chrome OS, and that's what lets this hack work behind the scenes.

Install an Android app on Chrome OS

We'll be using the chromeos-apk tool for this. It runs on UNIX-like systems (read: Linux and Mac OS X). We performed this process with Ubuntu 14.04, but there's a way to convert APK files manually if you're on Windows, or you can run Ubuntu from a live CD or Wubi. You can even do this on a Chromebook itself if you're a geek who's installed Linux in developer mode.

On Ubuntu, open a Terminal window. Run the following two commands to install and set up node.js:

sudo apt-get install nodejs npm

sudo ln -s /usr/bin/nodejs /usr/bin/node

Next, install the chromeos-apk tool:

sudo npm install chromeos-apk -g

You'll need the Android app's APK file. Google doesn't just allow you to download these from the Google Play Store. You can sometimes find APK files on various websites online, but that's risky — it's like downloading a program's .exe file from an unofficial file-hosting site instead of the official source.

If you have an Android smartphone or tablet, AirDroid works well for this. Install the Android app you want to run on your Chromebook on your Android device, and install AirDroid as well. Open the AirDroid app and visit the AirDroid website on your computer. Sign in to the AirDroid interface. You don't need to create an account, just scan the QR code on the screen with your device's camera. Click the Apps icon, locate the app you want to run, and click the Download button to its right. You'll get the app's APK file on your computer.

 

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