Google’s convergence of Chrome and Android is taking a big step forward this week. After launching a limited App Runtime for Chrome (ARC) back in September, Google is expanding its beta project to allow Android apps to run on Windows, OS X, and Linux. It’s an early experiment designed primarily for developers, but anyone can now download an APK of an existing Android app and launch it on a Windows / Linux PC, Mac, or Chromebook.
You simply need to download the ARC Welder app and obtain APKs from Google’s Play Store. There are some limitations: only one app can be loaded at a time, and you have to select landscape or portrait layout and whether you want the app to run in phone- or tablet-style. However, you can load multiple apps by selecting the download ZIP option in Arc Welder and extracting it and then enabling extension developer mode to load the folder of the extracted APK. During my testing I’ve found that most apps run really well. There are some exceptions like Gmail and Chrome for Android that throw up Google Play Services errors, but that’s not because ARC doesn’t support them. Developers will need to optimize their apps for ARC, and some Google Play Services are also supported right now, making that process a lot easier.
ARC is based on Android 4.4, meaning a lot of standalone apps are immediately compatible. Twitter works well, and Facebook Messenger loads just fine but does continuously say it’s waiting for the network. I was impressed with Flipboard, and the ability to flick through using two finger gestures on a trackpad, and even Instagram works well for casual browsing. Of course, trying to use the camera in apps will immediate force the app to crash, and keyboard commands aren’t always recognized properly. The biggest issue is that most apps are simply designed for touch, or in the case of games to use a phone’s accelerometer.
I tried a variety of games, and while simple titles like Candy Crush Soda work very well, others refused to launch properly or couldn’t handle mouse input correctly. That’s not surprising for apps that aren’t even optimized, and it’s clear Google’s project has a bright future. While Microsoft is building out Windows 10 and the idea of universal apps across PCs, phones, tablets, and the Xbox One, Google is turning Android into its own universal app platform. Google already built a way to push Chrome OS straight into Windows 8, and this latest Android experiment brings Google even closer to a PC market dominated by Microsoft. Developers can now run their Android apps on phones, tablets, PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, and even Linux-powered devices, and that’s a big opportunity that will likely result in a lot of these apps arriving in the Chrome Web Store in the near future.