You can already run Android apps on most Chromebooks, thanks to an optional feature that basically installed Google’s mobile operating system as a subsystem of Google’s laptop and desktop OS.

Soon you may also be able to run ChromeOS on Android phones and tablets. Why would you want to do that? Because it lets you use your Android phone like a Chromebox when it’s connected to an external display, complete with a desktop version of the Chrome web browser and full support for browser extensions and web apps. Update: While it’s clearly technically possible to run ChromeOS as a virtual machine an Android phone, it turns out that Google has no plans to make this feature widely available. Instead the company was just showing it off as a tech demo to showcase Android’s virtualization capabilities.

The original article continues below:

Writing for Android Authority, Mishaal Rahman explains that Google introduced a feature called Android Virtualization Framework with the launch of Android 13. It essentially lets you install a second operating system in a virtual machine, allowing you to run apps in something of a sandboxed environment.

Up until recently, the only officially officially supported second OS was a stripped-down version of Android that allowed you to run Android apps that were isolated from the rest of the operating system, presumably for privacy and security reasons.

But Rahman says Google has recently begun showing off a build of Chromium OS (the open source version of ChromeOS) running in a virtual machine on the Google Pixel 8. In a follow-up article, he managed to get the software up and running on a Google Pixel 7 Pro, and recorded a video to show what that looks like.

Does it make a lot of sense to run software like this on a phone like the Pixel 7 Pro, which doesn’t support video output to an external display? Maybe not – the user interface of Google’s desktop browser isn’t really optimized for small screens. But Rahman says that he ran into a bug that prevented him from getting Chromium OS up and running on his Pixel 8 Pro, which does support video out over a USB-C port.

It’s unclear if or when Google will make this feature available to the general public. Right now it seems to be something that the company is showing off behind closed doors as an example of what it’s possible to do with the Android Virtualization Framework. And the big news is that there’s any support at all for running something other than Android in a VM.

The idea of using your phone as a desktop isn’t exactly new.

Samsung’s DeX software is designed to give Android a more desktop-like user interface when using a keyboard. But you’re still basically using Android. Motorola was one of the first companies to try to merge smartphones and laptops way back in 2011 with the introduction of the Motorola Atrix 4G and its Lapdock companion, which allowed you to plug the phone into a laptop-like keyboard and display in order to use a desktop build of Firefox. And mobile Linux distributions like postmarketOS, PureOS, and Ubuntu Touch all support “convergence,” which is a fancy way of saying you can run mobile and desktop apps on the save device, and the operating systems can act like a desktop OS when an external display, mouse and keyboard are attached.

But it’s still interesting to ponder what an out-of-the-box solution from Google could bring to the table. That said, I also can’t help but feel like if there was massive demand for using your phone like a PC, then we’d see more mainstream devices with that feature already. I suspect this is likely to remain a niche use case for the foreseeable future, even if Google does eventually make it as easy to run ChromeOS on Android devices as it is to run Android apps on Chromebooks today.

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  1. Wow, what kind of slow PCs are people running if they would prefer to use their phone? The best scenario I would expect is the phone working as a remote Windows desktop that is able to make it thru the company firewall. It doesn’t need run anything local, just be a snappy remote terminal.

  2. Listen up, it is very important what I am going to say.
    There IS a “massive demand” to use your phone as your PC.
    However, no manufacturer has even come close to providing a phone sized device that actually works like a PC(not even close).
    If they did, it would be a HUGE hit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Why not just enable USB Alt-mode and then have the Android browser support more extensions? Android apps on Chrome can be problematic, so I’m not really that excited about this.

  4. I hate getting teased constantly by the big G with their lackadaisical approach to stuff like this and desktop mode support in Android. Android has had (a developer mode only) desktop mode since version 10 and yet it hasn’t been actively developed and as mentioned in the article most of the Pixel line has simply not had the hardware to do DP over USB-C or whatever until it turned out the 8 had it but desktop mode was still very much a work in progress.

    Will Google get their head out of their butt by the time 15 rolls around and give people the ability to use one of their devices as an all in one device? Probably not.

  5. There is a massive demand for small phones with audio jacks and SD card support. Well, doesn’t seem like the companies got the memo.

    1. Is there, or is that what you want? I want that too, but that doesn’t mean there is massive demand. Lots of companies have made smaller models. Presumably they have plenty of data about how many of those they sell compared to the large ones? Companies may not be smart, but if they all stop making something at the same time, you have to wonder if they have a reason.

  6. Has google abandoned the idea of fuchsia as an android/chrome replacement or just delayed it? Seems like a few years ago they were serious about it taking over. Now it feels like an afterthought

  7. There was Linux on DeX, but with the performance back in the day it was pretty useless, and I suppose pretty expensive to support, so it was axed. Poor sales of now almost extinct ChromeOS tablets also may be a sign that there is indeed no demand. Android is basically too mature now for the most tasks.
    There was also demo of Windows 11 on Android VM, even on Liliputing.

  8. If they would allow Linux it would be awesome.

    Yeah yeah, I have termux on my phone already. I mean a full virtual Linux environment.

    To answer Brad’s statement: Major phone companies don’t want convergence, because then you might make do with only a phone instead of buying both a phone and a laptop from Samsung who makes both…. Or Google who also makes both.

    Remember back in the day sd cards used to be a standard feature? The reason they aren’t today is so you have to buy a new device/service for more storage.

    An aside, mobile Linux excerpt Sailfish OS don’t support VoLTE on anything except the pinephone (which does it in the modem), and Sailfish only supports it on some older Sony Xperia phones. VoLTE is necessary to be able to use your phone as a phone.

    1. FWIW, in Europe (and I think much of the rest of the world) there are still 3G networks running, meaning that VoLTE isn’t a necessity. My impression is that a lot of mobile Linux efforts are being made outside of the US largely for this reason.

      1. 19 EU service providers are shutting off 3G by 2025, and a further 8 are getting rid of 2G.

        The EU is only 1-2 years behind the US on the shutdown timetable

        1. Judging by the forums, VoLTE works on the Librem 5 too. Presumably it will be enabled on Mobile Linux on the Fairphones?

          1. Depends. Librem and pinephone both are able to have VoLTE because the modem itself handles that.