Here’s what Android apps running on Windows means for Chromebooks
When Microsoft first announced Android app support for Windows 11, beginning with its Insider Preview, many people got excited, myself included. Understandably so, right? There’s literally an app for almost everything, and over the past two decades, they’ve taken the world by storm as utilities to help users get things done, communicate, have fun, and more. However, our excitement was quickly deflated when it was revealed that the Google Play Store wouldn’t be the means by which apps would come to the well-established OS. Instead, it would be Amazon’s own app store. Worse still, only about 50 apps from said store would be compatible with Windows at launch.
Luckily, just a few days ago, a design student actually got the full Play Store working in all of its glory via the Linux Subsystem for Windows through an Ubuntu install. Now, there are tutorials everywhere, and many more technical users are following those instructions to get millions of apps on their desktops in addition to the software they already had installed.
You’d think that all of this would mean that Chromebooks are now worthless, right? Has Microsoft won and is everyone going to go out and get Windows laptops again like the good old days? Not so fast! If I’m honest, having Android apps on Windows at first seemed like a dream, and I’ve even gone so far as to use Bluestacks to emulate them in the past, but there are several reasons why I don’t see app compatibility on the traditional desktop OS replacing my Chromebook, and I’m sure that many people would agree with me.
First, Android apps are only in their infancy for Windows. Let’s just get that out of the way, shall we? Even though some people are installing and using them, it will likely be a few years or never at all before the Google Play Store officially releases as a supported feature on Windows. The method that’s being used right now is unsupported and unofficial, and the layperson simply isn’t going to jump through so many hoops to get it working.
Next, and probably most importantly, apps are quickly becoming yesterday’s news. They will always be owed a debt of gratitude for the vital role they’ve played in history, but as the web becomes more powerful and more capable, Progressive Web Apps are rapidly taking over all of the jobs and features that apps once held. That’s right, you can do nearly everything through the web now that you’d traditionally do through apps! Even on my Chromebook, I hardly ever open the Google Play Store, and when I do, it’s for games.
I can’t really think of a single app experience that would install when I could simply visit a website URL instead and save space and time like Hiro Nakamura (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!) That being said, I can see an instance where the Play Store becoming available on Windows would be useful. Many PWAs are replacing packaged apps in the store, and distributing them this way instead of requiring users to turn a website into an icon manually means that they are more discoverable out of the box.
So, with the Play Store being almost completely useless to me and many others on Windows, I want to state that it’s also the least exciting feature Microsoft could implement (officially or otherwise) from Chrome OS. What I find most valuable in Google’s operating system goes beyond access to locally installed apps. Had you asked me years ago, they would have been a number one feature request, but now that Windows has taken forever to get with the times, they’re really more of a nice-to-have, and that’s unfortunate.
Instead, I value the ability to quickly switch between work and personal Google Accounts or personas with multi-account sign-in, the browser being the center of my experience due to information being the center of my workflow, and overall just the simplicity that Chromebooks offer. To top it all off, the UI and UX design of Chrome OS blows even Windows 11 out of the water, but that’s just my opinion.
In order to jump between Windows user accounts, even if multiple accounts are signed in, it takes too long and it doesn’t feel seamless. It almost feels like each profile “goes to sleep” or spins down to save RAM once you swap between them, and jumping back and forth isn’t instantaneous like it is with a Chromebook.
The worst offender is the fact that if you’re not using Microsoft Edge (and even if you are) web apps that you create do not feel natively integrated into the operating system. They feel like an aside, and that’s because they are. Windows has always focused on powerful applications, and there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s why we use it, right? After all, I can’t run Photoshop on my Chromebook (yet), and Unreal Engine 4, is at least a decade away, in my estimation.
Just because it focuses on creation tools, doesn’t mean that Windows should brush information experiences like web apps to the side, but it does. In order to get my Windows 11 machine to act more like a Chromebook and to have PWAs in the start menu, I had to go through a lot more work than I do on my Chrome OS laptop (because they’re already there in the launcher!) Even when I did use Edge, as previously mentioned, apps didn’t consistently appear in the start menu when I told them to. This could simply be a Preview bug, but I’ll probably never know because the experience was so bad that I’ll likely never attempt it again.
Ultimately, trying to use web apps and quickly access information, switch between personas, and retain that feeling of simplicity in my life just hasn’t been possible with Windows, even after adopting Windows 11 for day-to-day use. I’ll always appreciate Microsoft for what it does well – providing me a space to develop games, modify things in Photoshop, and even video editing, but I’ll always defer to my Chromebook for daily usage thanks to the psychology of it.
As Google adds more Linux support, big companies turn to web apps and migrate their powerful desktop experiences to my browser tabs, and so on, I’m sure that my feelings will only grow stronger. The worst thing you could possibly do though is to say that these two operating systems can’t co-exist and to take one side over the other. Each one does something better than the other, and that’s okay. Use them both, and enjoy them! In the end, we as consumers end up winning so long as there is competition to drive innovation, and that’s awesome.