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What does Android Pie mean for Chromebooks?

The basics of Android on a phone and on a Chromebook are identical. App developers use the same tools to build the same apps and can then optimize things any way they like. You can already tell this by visiting Google Play with your Chromebook and downloading whatever you like.

Almost every app will open and run, though some will run better than others and some will be better optimized for a much bigger screen (this has always been Android's curse), so Android is Android. But without the parts needed to control the hardware or make a phone call or talk to Verizon towers — Chrome handles all that without needing help from Android — it's just a little different.

The current version of Android for Chrome OS (Chromeboxes are also a thing!) is Android 7.1 Nougat. Oreo never arrived for Chrome and instead, the Chrome team spent the time needed to make Nougat features like inline replies and stylized notifications fit in so that Android apps didn't feel as out of place as they did in the beginning. But Android Pie will be coming to Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, and its arrival not only brings support for the new developer APIs but will also serve to bring the Android experience we already know to the bigger screen we already love.

Starting with Milestone 69 (expected sometime this fall for the stable channel), we'll be seeing all sorts of goodies!

  • A new (and hopefully improved) Tablet Mode is on the way, which is great since Chrome tablets are already a thing. In Tablet Mode all apps will still start in full-screen, but we'll see better controls in the Chrome shelf and much-improved animations. Chrome tablets are awesome, so let's hope Tablet Mode gets awesome soon.
  • A better split-screen experience will allow for more sizing options and Chrome will be able to know an Android app is running in split-screen instead of "just" running.
  • Picture-in-Picture is finally arriving for Android apps and Chrome apps. You'll be able to resize and move the picture window and all the features available for Android phones for PiP will also work on Chrome.
  • Version 69 will bring the full Android IME virtual keyboard to Chrome. You'll be able to replace the current Chrome virtual keyboard, and even emojis are supported. It's the full GBoard experience.
  • Chrome will support App Shortcuts just like your phone running Android Pie. And developers won't have to do anything special for that to happen — if they build an App Shortcut, it will work.
  • Vulkan 1.1 support is coming and that means kick-ass 3D graphics! Some Chromebooks with the latest Intel architecture, like the Pixelbook, already support Vulkan 1.0 but support for more models comes with the newer version.
  • Better Pro Audio support is on the way. Version 65 of Chrome brought MIDI support for the Pixelbook and other models, but starting with Milestone 69 we'll see support for Multi-channel USB audio and the AAudio API complete with MMAP buffer direct writing. Applications that need low-latency audio (think GarageBand) will have everything they need in place.

The best part of all this is that Google has control over when and how these new features arrive. There are slight differences between models, but once a feature is tdon't and stable it usually comes to every Chromebook at the same time without any manufacturer involvement. That means your Chromebook will get every feature it can support as soon as possible so you don;t have to have a Pixelbook to enjoy them!

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

7 Comments
  • Might want to check that last paragraph -- Android on Chrome OS is highly fragmented. New features like Android versions (and Linux compatibility) arrive at drastically different times for different manufacturers and models. There are some models that still waiting for Android app compatibility -- some that has been "planned" for more than a year -- that probably will never come. So it's wrong to give the impression that Google can just flip a switch and deliver new features to all Chromebooks. They probably could, but they certainly don't.
  • It also has to do with microprocessors, ram, mother boards and the such. So many manufactures use different parts just to cut costs instead of following the same specs. This is also true with Andoid. There will always be compatibility issues and this will lead to non supported hardware. Until manufactures of hardware and software follow the same guidelines...you and I will continue hearing the same issues.
  • That's why if you want the best experience you can get on ChromeOS or Android the only way to go is to get Google's own devices (Pixel phones, Pixelbook). Otherwise you'll always be a second class citizen when it comes to features, updates, support, etc. It's not anyone's fault it's just the nature of these things because of so much diverse hardware (and software when it comes to Android). That's not to say you can't have a good or even great experience on other OEM's devices, you just need to lower your expectations and increase your patience.
  • I agree, to this comment, don't agree with the others or the articles "That means your Chromebook will get every feature it can support as soon as possible so you don;t have to have a Pixelbook to enjoy them!". Acer CB3-111 still on the waiting list, for 2 years. No Android apps, no Project Crostini but version 69 with some graphical stuff, then the graphical stuff went away on the next update. Starting to get discouraged with Chromebooks and don't even care anymore if I have latest Android on phone. And no chromebook hardware is not that different from mfg. to mfg. most were running similar celeron processors, until the ARM ones started showing up.
  • That's pretty much the same situation for Android on smartphones. And as someone else said, for both smartphones and Chromebooks, the only way to be assured you will get all the features in a timely manner is to get Google devices. The only way you're not going to see fragmentation is if Google follows Apple's path and keeps Android/Chrome OS to themselves, and forgoes hardware partners.
  • No, the last paragraph is just fine. The "models that [are] still waiting for Android apps compatibility" are all really old models manufactured well before an Android container was a thing. Those devices don't include any newer models. (Those old-device owners are both surprised and ecstatic to get ANY Play Store support.) Small variations between the way that Android apps run on Chrome OS is, more than anything, related to the age of the device and whether the developer has bothered to update the app anytime in recent history.
  • I'd just be happy if they got I could get Android apps on my Toshiba Chromebook 2. I know it's on the 2015 variant, but mine has been "planned" for years.