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Chrome OS to get Android apps via the magic of containers

Long-expected marriage of operating systems

Google I/O 2016 Google has pulled the move the software market has been waiting ages for, and built a system to run Android apps on its desktop operating system.

The system works by setting up a Linux container in the Chrome operating system that runs a complete version of Android in a locked-down environment to minimize security issues. It's not an emulated version of Android, so there should be a minimum number of issues, Chrome OS team leader Kan Liu told developers at the Google I/O conference.

There is a little bit of processor and memory load to pull this off, but it's well within the scope of Chromebooks that use either Intel or ARM processors, he explained. Chromebooks are more powerful than the smartphones that Android apps are designed for, so processors will have little problem running the mobile code.

The system does have its limits, however. Android apps that require specific hardware, like an always-on cellular link, won't run on a laptop that doesn't have the necessary kit. But that's not as big an issue as you might think, Liu opined.

For example, while some apps require GPS (something very few laptops bother to install), what they are actually after is location information, and that can usually be provided by WiFi systems.

That said, according to Liu, the addition would give a spur for manufacturers to build more hardware into premium models. It's possible – cellular-connected Chromebooks have traditionally been the red-headed stepchild of the platform and supporting the connections for Android users could prove popular.

Google didn't announce any new Chromebooks in its Pixel line, but said new hardware would be coming out from other manufacturers when Android is fully integrated later this year.

Overall, Google was very pleased with the Chrome OS model, Liu said, citing figures from IDC saying that the platform is now outselling Macs in the US. Fifty million schoolchildren are now using Chromebooks, he said, and there was potential for great growth in the enterprise market.

Liu said that the Android addition would be included in the next developer release of Chrome OS, M53, in the next few weeks, and then on to consumers later in the year when the bugs have been sorted out. ®

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