Putting Chromebooks to work
The Google Play Store is coming to a Chromebook near you. But for this to really make a major difference in how we use Chrome OS, it’s going to take the right apps.
And they need to do more than just look and perform like blown-up phone apps. Shoot, you can have that on an Android tablet. Instead, for Chrome OS to be a game changer, it will need Android apps that are repurposed to offer more than their web counterparts.
Time’s running out for developers, because the Google Play Store is already rolling out to the Asus Chromebook Flip in the developer channel version of Chrome 53. After a stopover on the Chromebook Pixel (2015 model only) and Acer Chromebook R11 / C738T, Google will start to make the Play Store available on several other Chromebooks later this year.
But if Android app developers do it right, then it won’t be long before your Chromebook is a substantially more powerful computer than it is right now. Allow us to summon a genie from our magic lamp (a bit of hardcore hardware Executive Editor Gordon Mah Ung would proud of) to make some wishes for the Android apps we want to see.
During the demo at Google I/O, presenters showed off Microsoft Word to illustrate how a Chromebook could be just like a traditional PC. In fact, I couldn’t help but think during the event that Google had just invented...Windows.
While you’d think this would be very bad for Microsoft, that may not be the case. Microsoft is all about selling those Office 365 licenses, and if Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote perform well, then Chrome could be a great platform on which Microsoft can peddle its wares. How times have changed.
A Microsoft spokesperson told PCWorld, “With the Google Play Store coming to Chromebooks, Office 365 subscribers will be able to use Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and others to be productive wherever they go with their Chromebooks or tablets. Our joint customers will enjoy the flexibility, power, and familiarity of Office with a look and feel they’re used to on their Google devices.”
Yes, you can do photo editing on a Chromebook. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy, especially if you end up somewhere with limited internet access. Lightroom, and by extension similar photo-editing apps, would go a long way towards bridging the gap between Chromebooks and more traditional PCs.
Adobe’s tools on Android are already pretty strong, and there’s possibly more that could be done with a larger platform to address. If even moderate-level photo editing can be performed on a Chromebook, that bodes well for anyone thinking about making it their full-time computer.
It doesn’t have to be all work and no play. When it comes to streaming music, Spotify is the current champ, though that web interface could definitely use some work. Using the Android app could turn out to be the right solution, particularly if you’re able to tap in to offline storage and use many of the app-specific features on Chrome OS.
The Android app is far superior to the web experience, so if there are some tweaks to the interface to make it scale well on a larger screen, Spotify could rule our hearts and tunes when working away on Chrome OS.
It may seem to violate all that is holy and true, but according to those who’ve tried it out, Firefox and other browsers work just fine on a Chromebook. If so, this would surely make Chromebooks more like full-blown PCs, which have no allegiance to any one browser. Whether you like variety, or need access to different browsers as a developer or for some other function of your job, this openness could make a huge difference for Chrome OS. It also can’t hurt Google’s efforts to stave off further antitrust investigations.
Facilitating advanced design work, as with AutoCAD and similar tools, was never part of Chrome OS's charge. But now it’s a very real possibility if the Android app can be brought up to snuff. It's an especially intriguing possibility on touchscreen-equipped Chromebooks, from the uber-expensive Pixel to the impulse-buy-level Chromebook Flip.
Pen input right now is currently ruled by Microsoft's Surface line and other touch-friendly Windows laptops. But Chromebooks could make a play for those who want to design tools that are friendlier to touch.
I’ve often felt that Google Now is rather underserved on my Chromebook. Considering you’re on a Google operating system, there ought to be deeper integration than the few cards that pop up when you hit the search button.
A dedicated Google app could fix this, giving you all those instant sports scores, contextual updates, and other details to get you through your day. Google’s superior contextual awareness is one of the things that drives people to Android, and it would be a great advantage if put to full use on Chromebooks.
Love it or hate it, you can’t really ignore the Twitter. At least managing the rapid-fire social network will be a lot easier with a dedicated Twitter app. On a Chromebook you’re stuck with the Twitter website or the oft-neglected TweetDeck. With a dedicated Twitter app you’ll be able to get notifications, direct messages, and all the other brief missives that should keep you sufficiently unproductive. In a recent tweet, Android and Chrome head Hiroshi Lockheimer hinted at this very capability, along with a tease of what Andoid N will be called.