Launched in October 2008, Android Marketplace was the first iteration of the store that allowed Android users to download and install apps and games to their phones. In 2012, Google reworked and completely renovated it to become the Google Play Store. Since then, these apps have been installed in cars, watches, refrigerators and yes, even Chromebooks. Even if this is the case, we still call them “Android apps” – why? Yes, I know that in each of these cases, they are still installed within the Android framework, but I think they have grown out of the nomenclature and may continue to mature if we change our perception of them going forward. Let me explain.
For several years, Google has been trying to kick developers into equipment in the hopes that they will start making their apps for larger screens. In particular, they wanted to optimize for Chromebooks, and even gave them a roadmap to do so when they launched their ChromeOS.dev resources.
When they had not asked them to create full-screen experiences that use background processes, mouse and keyboard support and more, they have received little fruit in return for their work. Why are there almost 1.85 million apps on the Google Play Store that are limited to our phones and tablets when they have so much opportunity? You could argue that it’s just because they were built for them alone, but I disagree. I believe that they can and should be scaled to maturity and become increasingly useful outside the originally intended ecosystem. I’ve talked to a lot of app developers, and they seem to think the problem is twofold.
First, they say that their user base for Chromebooks is not large enough to guarantee a team dedicated to optimizing their apps for Google laptops. (though admittedly, in many cases they just do not track these statistics because they themselves are not familiar with Chromebooks). Secondly, they have told me that they do not feel that Google has given them enough incentive to take apps they created many years ago for phones and tablets and completely rework them for Chromebooks.
If this is true, I can see why there has been little improvement in apps that feel like they belong on a laptop. Yes, most apps “work” on Chromebooks, and all apps that have a tablet mode that can rotate in landscape orientation fill the Chromebook screen, but this is far from a real laptop experience – Icons, text and other visual elements remain clumsy and strangely placed for fingers instead of mice, and there are many issues that render, and I can still only play maybe five Google Play games that I know of with a game controller – that is depressing. ->
I think developers need to take this more seriously, but maybe it’s cyclical – maybe if we stop calling them “Android apps” – and therefore maintain the stigma that comes with them – really showing interest in having these “Google Play App” experiences optimized for our Chromebooks, developers might see a need to take action. Maybe if we saw more developers taking advantage of the opportunity to optimize their Chromebook apps, users would start asking or even begging them to do so more often. Are we stuck in an infinite loop? I encourage you to contact your favorite developer using the email address of the contact in the Play Store listing to tell them you want to use the apps on your Chromebook!
If you are a developer and reading this, you may be interested to know that developers who take advantage of creating larger screen experiences are seeing explosive growth in the user base. For example, Gameloft – the creator of the racing game Asphalt 8 saw 9 times more by optimizing for Chrome OS – it’s tempting. In addition, Pixonic, the creator of the popular War Robots game, increased its engagement with 25% on Chrome OS by using a few optimizations. Games like Roblox have long embraced the Chromebook and continue to do so. There’s actually a whole news section that Google keeps up to date on chromeos.dev where they blog about these success stories, so it’s clear they have a mind to bring Google Play apps on the go, as Chrome OS continues to look great growth spurts year after year.
It’s true that progressive web apps (PWAs) are taking hold, and we’re all happy about them, but I think Google Play apps will continue to have a place on our devices for years to come – at least in some form. For example, when Android R finally comes to Chrome OS, Google may very well be looking to take control of the situation even to some degree. By running Google Play apps on their own virtual machine just like Crostini using something called ARCVM, they can have a little more control over how they look and run on Chromebooks, thus providing a more streamlined and consistent experience. We’ll have to wait and see what happens to it, but we’ll keep you updated as we learn more.
All this to say that continuing to box apps on our phones and tablets when they are capable of so much more does them a disservice, but what do you think? Is it just a matter of syntax that “Android apps” are starting to be called “Google Play apps” and processed so much more? Is it important to you that their perception is transformed, or do you stick to web apps? Do you think they can and should exist as Chrome OS evolves and matures?
I may sound like I’m nimble, but I still think it’s an important conversation to have, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter. I’m tired of recommending apps and games to Chromebook owners just to be ashamed that they do not have full or partial support for mouse, keyboard or gamepad. I’m tired of opening an app only to find that it’s stuck in portrait mode with black blocks on the left and right side of it, only then to hear someone watching bash Chrome OS and say it’s just a big Android tablet. I’m tired of thick display elements and ugly rendering issues. If you’re an app developer, tell me – is Google doing enough to stimulate you to optimize for Chrome OS, or is it still a massive roadblock? I’m genuinely interested in hearing your side of the story!
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