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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.

Next, you'll use the following command on your computer to package the Android app up for Chrome OS. (Be sure to replace "/path/to/app.apk" with the file path to the downloaded APK file on your drive.)

chromeos-apk /path/to/app.apk

If you'd like to use the app's tablet interface instead of it smartphone interface, add — tablet to the end of the command, like so:

chromeos-apk /path/to/app.apk — tablet

I saw an error message with Skype and had to enter the "" name when prompted, but the tool still successfully converted Skype and it ran on my Chromebook. The tool is supposed to get the appropriate name from the APK file so you don't have to enter it by hand, but it doesn't always work.

The command generates a directory, which will appear in your home directory on Linux. Copy the entire directory to your Chromebook via a USB flash drive, SD Card, or shuffling it around using a cloud syncing service. Go to the Extensions page on your Chromebook (Chrome > "Hamburger" menu > Tools > Extensions), click Enable developer mode, and use the Load unpacked extension button to load the extension directory for the Android app.

Once that's done, simply open select the Launch option for the app in the Extensions menu.

Run more than one app

This tool has some limitations. Google's Android runtime for Chrome is currently restricted to four specific apps, and the tool above replaces Vine with an app of your choice. You can only use the command above to install a single Android app on your device at a time. If you want to install up to three more, follow these instructions.

Vladikoff — chromeos-apk's developer — has also now released a modified Android runtime for Chrome. It's known as the ARChon Custom Runtime, and it allows you to run any number of apps at a time. It even allows you to run Android apps in Chrome on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. This modified runtime is less official and may be more unstable. Of course, Windows users already have a good way to run Android apps with BlueStacks or by installing Android in a virtual machine.

Where is this headed?

In the future, Google will likely improve their Android app runtime and allow all Android developers to easily package their apps and put them on the Chrome Web Store. Google could go even further, adding Chromebooks as another supported device in Google Play so you could easily install any Android app on a Chromebook like you'd install it on a smartphone or tablet.

We'll probably need unofficial tools like chromeos-apk for a while. It's unlikely we'll see every Android app appear in the Chrome Web Store any time soon. Chrome OS users may have to use tools like chromeos-apk to package up apps like Skype; Microsoft probably doesn't want Skype running on Chromebooks, as they like using it as a cudgel against Chrome OS in their "Scroogled" campaign and other ads.


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