We’ve been waiting for Android apps from Google Play Store to make their full appearance on Chromebooks for some time now, and that time might soon be near as Chrome OS 58 nears its release date of late April 2017. But one of the biggest challenges of porting a smartphone app to a laptop is, obviously, keyboard functionality. Will Chrome OS 58 with Android O be the solution we’ve all been waiting for?
According to Google’s Dave Burke, VP of Engineering, Google has been trying to bring a measure of unification between the Chrome OS and Play Store ecosystems. That’s not an easy task, considering that mobile apps are designed primarily for touch. When a keyboard is introduced into the mix, it causes all sorts of problems.
“With the advent of Google Play apps on Chrome OS and other large form factors, we’re seeing a resurgence of keyboard navigation use within these apps. In Android O we focused on building a more reliable, predictable model for “arrow” and “tab” navigation that aids both developers and end users.”
With Android O, that problem is being addressed, apparently, by creating a platform for keyboard functions that will allow the app to have a more natural feel when running on Chrome OS devices. But there’s also a wide disparity between the kinds of keyboard layouts users prefer. Games prefer a standard layout for the sake of consistency and ease of play, for example.
All of these elements need to be taken into consideration when creating such a platform; there needs to be coherence when app developers create those keyboard functions for their apps.
We’ll have to wait until Chrome OS 58 is out later this month, but what we hope to see is a solid direction for Android app functionality on Chrome OS 58. With Android O in the picture, there is bound to be some feverish activity as developers tweak their apps and prepare them to debut on Chrome OS 58.
Don’t expect seamless functionality right away. Developers need to get used to the new platform and figure out the best way to convert smartphone taps and swipes and force touches into keyboard commands. Some will get it right, but many won’t unless they’re doing elaborate user testing on their own.
At best, it will be a work in progress, but if devs start to align their apps to a particular keyboard layout, it’ll go much smoother. And that’s what we want in the end: for Chromebooks to be able to handle a mobile app the way a smartphone does. It might not come now, but it will eventually move to that point after a lot of trial and error.
But when it does, that not only opens Chromebooks to millions of apps, but a whole new barrage of apps will start appearing that are optimized for Chromebooks. Essentially, that could blur the lines between mobile and desktop the way Alphabet is trying to do it with their Andromeda OS.
We’re waiting for you, Chrome OS 58 with a touch of O!
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