The lines between Google’s Chrome and Android operating systems is getting blurrier. Google has long positioned Chrome OS as its operating system for laptop and desktop computers, while Android is designed for smartphones, tablets, TV boxes, and wearables.
But about a year and a half ago the company started working with some developers to port Android apps so they could run on Chrome OS. In March, 2015, the company offered up tools to let any Android app developer turn their software into a Chrome app that could be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store.
There are still a lot more apps available for Android than there are for Chrome though.. and soon you may be able to run most of them on a Chromebook. Users have started to find clues suggesting that Google’s app store for Android is coming to Chrome OS.
Redditor TheWiseYoda noticed that when he opened the Settings menu on his Chromebook, he briefly saw an option that says “Enable apps to run on your Chromebook.” The option disappears after a second, but if you catch it in time, you can reportedly check the box and get a window that asks you to “get started” setting up the Google Play Store on your Chromebook.
The Google Play Store is home to thousands of apps and games, as well as eBooks, movies, and songs. You can purchase the media from pretty much any device just by visiting play.google.com/store in a web browser. But up until now, the native app for the Play Store only ran on Android and it would only let you download and install apps on Android.
If you’re looking for clues that this isn’t just an isolated incident, or a hoax, there’s language in the Chromium OS source code for a “checkbox that enables Android apps.”
TheWiseYoda, by the way, is using a Samsung Chromebook running Chrome OS 51.0.2699.0 dev channel. Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo was also able to see the Android apps/Play Store settings option using a 2nd-gen Chromebook Pixel set to the Chrome OS developer channel.
While Google hasn’t confirmed that the Play Store is coming to Chrome, and there’s still a chance that this could just be a test for a feature that may not ever be released to the public, it could bring over a million apps and games to Google’s operating system for laptops and desktops… while also blurring the lines between Chrome OS and Android.
Some Android apps may be easier to use with a touchscreen device than with a keyboard and mouse, but there are a number of Chromebooks with touch panels or even 360-degree convertible laptop/tablet designs.
It’s also possible that this could be a step toward eliminating Chrome and Android as distinct operating systems, and bringing them together to create a single OS that can run across a range of devices. Android, after all, is also getting some interesting multi-window features in the upcoming Android N release. Spruce up the Chrome browser for Android a bit and throw in support for third-party extensions, and soon it’ll be tough to tell the difference between Chrome OS and Android.
The Google I/O developer conference is coming up in mid-May. There’s a good chance we’ll learn more about the company’s plans then.