April 3, 2015

Google Opens Android-to-Chrome App Porting to All

ARC Welder app

This week, Google opened up its App Runtime for Chrome (ARC) for porting Android apps to Chrome OS to all Android developers, according to OMG!Chrome.

The technology, which runs Android at near-native speed via a sandboxed Dalvik VM, was previously available only to selected developers, resulting in some 30 Android apps that have been ported to the Chrome Web Store. With the newly opened ARC Welder app, that number should increase dramatically by the end of the year. The story notes that the move runs the risk that developers will avoid the rigors of native Chrome App development written in web technologies in favor of "lazy ports."

The ARC announcement, combined with the recent addition of the Chromebit TV stick and the affordable touch-enabled Flip Chromebook, bring Chrome OS ever closer to the eventual collision -- or possibly merger -- with the Google-driven Android.

The gradual unification of the two open source Linux platforms (open source, at least, in terms of the licensing) has been slowed by the fact that they differ fundamentally in the way they treat applications. Like Apple's iOS, and most PC software, Android is an app-driven platform. You download an app and it runs natively on your device, even if it typically has a cloud component.

Chrome OS, on the other hand, is more like Firefox OS in that it's built around the browser and HTML5. Although Google compromised somewhat on its pure cloud computing philosophy for Chrome OS, it's still essentially built around the Chrome browser's ability to run apps that run entirely in the cloud. The approach helps to deliver the simplified, highly secure Chrome OS user experience that has caught on so well with consumers and educators.

Until recently, the other main difference has been that Android has a touch interface, while Chrome OS is more of a traditional keyboard-and-mouse experience like the kind you find on most Linux, Mac, and Windows PCs. Currently, there are very few touch-enabled Chrome OS apps for the handful of touchscreen Chromebooks, but that's about to change.

Also hinting at Android convergence is a new beta Chrome Launcher 2.0 that switches the Chrome OS UI to a more Android like "Material Design" look and feel built around Google Now. Specifically, the launcher offers faster access to Google Now's informational and notification cards.

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