Chrome OS Tablets, And Your App

Yesterday, Acer officially announced the first Chrome OS tablet, the Acer Chromebook Tab 10. As with all newer Chrome OS devices, the Chromebook Tab 10 will run Android apps… perhaps including yours.

Many Android developers have been avoiding Chrome OS, arguing that it is a fairly fringe audience. And it is true that Android-capable Chrome OS devices make up perhaps 1% of the Android device ecosystem. However, by default, your app ships to Chrome OS devices, and blocking such distribution is not necessarily straightforward. Hence, you really need to consider adding Chrome OS to the lineup of test environments that you exercise your app on, as while Android on Chrome OS is a remarkable achievement, things are a bit different than what you may be used to. If Google makes a renewed tablet push using Chrome OS, the percentage of Chrome OS devices may climb a fair bit.

Some Android developers who embraced Chrome OS may have been thinking that keyboards were always part of the Chrome OS experience. This tablet indicates otherwise.

That’s why, on the whole, it is best not to think of particular devices, but rather particular features:

  • Supporting keyboards is not a Chrome OS thing, as keyboards have been an option before (Pixel C, various Bluetooth keyboards)

  • Supporting freeform multi-window is not a Chrome OS thing, as we also see them with Samsung DeX (and perhaps future environments)

  • Assumptions that you might make regarding available hardware, such as GPS or rear-facing cameras, are not tied to Chrome OS, but could vary on any sort of device

In these cases, while a Chrome OS device is a great testbed for how your app handles such things, you are not supporting Chrome OS by handling keyboards and such — you are supporting Android, and Chrome OS happens to be an environment for testing that support.

It remains to be seen whether Chrome OS will jump-start the tablet form factor with respect to Android. However, this is another sign that Chrome OS is here to stay, and Android developers really need to take it into account, since your app may be running on Chrome OS devices right now.

Want an expert opinion on your Android app architecture decisions? Perhaps Mark Murphy can help!