Jun 21 2016

The Best of Both Worlds: Android Apps Arrive on Chrome OS

The availability of Android apps on Google devices is poised to alter the K–12 device market.

Chromebooks are sure to be a hot topic at next week’s International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) 2016 conference, given recent developments with Chrome OS.

One of the bigger announcements that came out of Google I/O in May was that the Google Play app store would soon be coming to Chrome. Google has engineered a way to run its Android Framework in a container that is also able to access the underlying Chrome OS — offering the best of both worlds, Chrome and Android. From a developer perspective, Google figured out how to mix the peanut butter into the chocolate. For Chrome aficionados, there’s only one word for that: Yum!

These changes were rolled out in increments during Google I/O. Karen Greenleaf, manager of Google for Education’s content program, wrote a blog post announcing some early Android offerings available for Chrome, including Open eBooks, an e-reader app that supports the ConnectED initiative.

The fun really starts this month, when three Chromebook models are set to receive updates for Google Play support: Acer’s Chromebook R11/C738T, ASUS’s Chromebook Flip and Google’s Chromebook Pixel (2015). Android app support will roll out to an expanding list of models throughout 2016.

This is exciting news for K–12, a huge market for Chromebooks, which run Chrome OS. In the third quarter of 2015, Chromebooks accounted for 51 percent of K–12 notebooks sales. The ability to access Android apps is going to further increase the appeal of Chromebooks within the education market.

“So far, we’ve seen a huge positive response from schools,” says David Andrade, K–12 education strategist for CDW•G and the author of the Educational Technology Guy blog. “It opens up lots of opportunities. Schools that purchased iPads for certain apps now have another option for a broad selection of apps.”

Schools operating Apple ecosystems are not the only ones that may be affected by this development — Microsoft-reliant districts will also see changes.

“This will enhance the usability of Chromebooks in districts that support Microsoft Office 365, along with Google Apps for Education,” says Pete Koczera, manager of CDW’s K–12 business development. “They’ll have better options to use a mix of Google and Microsoft apps.”

Aside from app development, Android on Chrome is also likely going to alter Chromebook design, with more devices working in touchscreen to take full advantage of the Android app interface.

“Schools should now consider new factors when deciding on Chomebooks,” explains Koczera. “To date, most schools have selected 16-gigabyte, non-touch devices.

Android apps bring more value to touch-enabled models — especially the 32GB versions — to take advantage of the increased storage for apps.”

“Especially in the lower grades and with special needs students, touchscreen is huge,” adds Andrade. “Instead of just a keyboard, they’ll have multi-interface opportunities. And this gives the schools more options beyond the iPad.”

And while some IT admins might continue to pine for closed security ecosystems, Greenleaf points out in her blog post that they need not fret: Admins will be able to use the same Admin Console to manage Android apps that they’ve already been using for their Chromebook fleets.


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