This article was updated in July 2016.
If the past few years have taught us anything, it's that people love to use "apps." That's in quotes for a reason — because it's not really anything new.
The word apps is a shortened term for applications because everyone loves to shorten things. We've been using applications — aka programs — since we first started using computers. In fact, at one time Windows used to be an app that ran on top of DOS that let you do things with a mouse instead of typing a bunch of stuff into a command prompt. Even before that, people have been building apps and running them on computers since the days of punch-card programming. Days I do not miss at all.
It makes sense that people want to know if the Chromebook they're thinking of buying can run apps, and the good news is that they most certainly can — and it's pretty easy to get started.
The Chrome Web Store
Just like Android and iOS or even Windows and Mac, Chromebooks have their own app store — the Chrome Web Store. And it's just as easy to use.
For starters, you'll only see apps that are compatible with your Chromebook hardware. That means you won't be installing something that doesn't work, then have to remove it. When you visit the Chrome Store from your Chromebook, you'll find thousands of apps and games in a searchable store. Apps from Google are there (of course) as well as names you'll recognize like Plex or Spotify or Netflix, as well as great apps from smaller independent developers. Of course, not every app is great, but the selection is broad enough that you'll find plenty to choose from.
Installing them is simple. Choose the app you want to install, and click the "Add to Chrome" button in the upper right of the window. You don't have to worry about anything else, and Google has pretty strict rules about how your data and privacy are handled. Once an app is installed, you'll find it ready to use by clicking the launcher icon (it's the magnifying glass in the bottom left) and looking through what's installed. To uninstall an app, right-click it's icon and choose to "Remove from Chrome."
Android apps on your Chromebook
Google has decided to put the Google Play Store on Chromebooks and announced how it all works at Google I/0 2016. You can watch a replay of the presentation for all the details, but here's what you need to know as an end-user.
Android is actually running on Chrome. This isn't just a reworking of the old ARC Welder method, where a separate set of files allowed apps to run if there were altered to be compatible, but a full and complete version of Android running as a separate container in your Chromebook's operating system. Some changes to Chrome help Android communicate with the hardware, but generally, things are separate and isolated from one another.
As of July 2016 (when this article was updated), things are still experimental. You have to be on the Chrome Dev channel, and not all Chromebooks have access. And not all Chromebooks will have access once things move to a more stable state. You can see a list of the existing Chrome devices that will get Android support here.
Android apps on Chrome certainly helps fill the gaps with over 1,000,000 apps in Google Play, but there are always going to be issues when an app was designed to run on a much smaller screen with more limited hardware. And that hardware is a bit different — your Chromebook doesn't come with an internal gyroscope for games that have you tile the screen to steer a virtual car, for example.
We're keeping a very close eye on all of this and we'll help dig through the million or so apps to find the ones that work best — so stay tuned.
One last thing to keep in mind is that apps take storage space to install and run, and most Chromebooks don't come with a lot of it to begin with. Here are some handy tips that can help if you need more room to install all the things.
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