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Skeptics question Android on Chromebooks

Gregg Keizer | May 25, 2016
Google's move to let Android apps run in Chrome OS doesn't change the game, analysts assert.

"While the two million businesses already using Google Apps for Work can view and edit Microsoft Word documents, some may prefer to use Microsoft's Office software," wrote Rajen Sheth, senior director of Android and Chrome for Work, in a post to a company blog last week. "That's possible on a Chromebook by installing the Android version of Microsoft Word, for example. And those who supplement Google Hangout meetings with Skype can do so on a Chromebook by using Skype for Android."

Jackdaw's Dawson contended that the Android app move would improve Chromebooks' chances of landing on an office desk. "The biggest boon ... is enterprise apps, which had hitherto made it to Android but not to Chrome OS," said Dawson in an analysis published on Tech.pinions last week (subscription required). "Google is hoping that this will help to break down additional barriers to driving enterprise adoption of Chrome OS, especially among knowledge workers heavily dependent on these more specialized apps."

Technology Business Research's Gottheil also thought Google was onto something. "The vast majority of [business] users don't need all the capabilities of a Windows PC," he said. "So Chromebooks would lower the TCO" (total cost of ownership).

But Technalysis' O'Donnell remained unconvinced, saying that Chromebooks were "not compelling" in the enterprise because of that market's reliance on Windows. "It makes some degree of sense, but it's not compelling," O'Donnell said of Android on Chrome OS. "If I'm an enterprise, I'm still going to manage Windows machines, still use customized Windows apps. And enterprise is less price-sensitive than education, so it's much more of a stretch" to say Chromebooks with Android will be popular in corporate settings.

Neither Android or Apple's iOS has managed to generate anything close to the depth and breadth of enterprise applications that Windows offers, O'Donnell continued, even with highly publicized efforts like Apple's partnerships with the likes of IBM and SAP.

Bringing software from one operating system to another has historically been relegated to stopgap measures -- Apple's emulation of older Mac apps during its transition from PowerPC processors to those from Intel comes to mind -- or has been reluctantly adopted as an act of last resort.

Even Apple's maneuver in 2010 that let iPhone apps run on the then-new iPad -- the two device families both ran iOS -- without modification, and thus at less-than-optimal screen size, was met with resistance. Likewise, virtualization software, which lets, for instance, a Mac run Windows and that OS's applications, has been adopted by only a very small pool of users.

"There will be work required by [Android app] developers," said O'Donnell, if the Chrome OS + Android strategy is to bear fruit. "There are lots of questions about how much work is required, and whether there is a payoff."


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