Controversial Opinion : Android on ChromeOS is not as important as it used to be
In 2016, Google made an announcement that ChromeOS will be getting the ability to run Android applications; furthermore, Google also announced that they will be bringing the Google Play Store to all future ChromeOS devices. This announcement was pivotal to ChromeOS as it finally brought some features we take for granted in 2024, such as a massive library of offline applications, games, VPNs and streaming media, to ChromeOS for the first time. For the longest time, I personally loaded my Chromebooks with as many Android Applications as I could; however, that time has long past. Lately, I find myself using a shrinking list of Android Applications on a regular basis, and with a few exceptions, I no longer see much of a need for Android on ChromeOS anymore.
There was a time when ChromeOS was seen as an operating system that had no real purpose in the market. Chromebooks were great for browsing the internet, but not much else. There was also a time when Chromebooks were practically useless offline, except for some niche edge cases where a developer released a dedicated ChromeOS Application or Chrome Extension. Admittedly the Chrome Web Store was mostly full of useless "shovelware" applications that did not offer much of a reason for someone to leave their laptop at home and only bring their Chromebook. This all changed with the introduction of Android Applications on ChromeOS, finally we were free to install thousands of applications and games, many of which work offline. This was truly a gammechanger for ChromeOS.
Android on ChromeOS was nice to have, and I made heavy use of it. I would favor the Android version of YouTube on ChromeOS because of its offline support, same as with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. Having access to hours of offline videos is so nice, especially when I am on a cross-country train ride or having to spend a few days without the internet due to a hurricane. Google later enhanced Android on ChromeOS to allow ChromeOS to use Android VPN clients.
Android on ChromeOS was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Many applications and games require a touchscreen to function properly, which is not something that all ChromeOS devices have. Many Android applications were designed to only work on phones, so their interfaces are either limited to a phone UI or rarely scale correctly. Part of this problem is caused by developers not having any incentive to support tablet UIs on their Android Applications due to the abysmal market adoption rate of Android Tablets. Still, even with these problems, many of us continued to use Android applications, hoping that things change.
A few years later in 2018, Google Announced that ChromeOS was going to get support for running Linux Applications. Linux support on ChromeOS was one of the reasons why I started to move away from Android applications on my Chromebooks. Linux applications are generally designed to target desktops and laptops so they present a UI that makes sense on a Chromebook, as opposed to a phone UI. Linux applications are also generally designed to work offline by default and they work regardless of if your Chromebook has a touchscreen or not. Additionally the ability to install developer-centric tools such as NodeJS, Apache, MySQL, Python and VSCode was enough for me to use ChromeOS as my daily driver.
Eventually, as the web evolved, Progressive Web Applications took the place of so many of the remaining Android Applications I use, specifically GMail and YouTube. YouTube Premium Members can use YouTube offline in Chrome and it is fantastic. GMail offline is so much better than the GMail Android Application that I used to make heavy use of in the past. I wish more web services would put more of an effort into creating Progressive Web Applications.
I would completely turn off Android Support on my Chromebooks; however, there are still two reasons why I can't
Offline Streaming Media - While YouTube's PWA works perfecty for watching media offline, other vendors have not caught on. I wish Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Netflix would release a PWA for their services that had offline support.
VPNs - I still stand by my statement that you probably do not need a VPN, I do still use a VPN to access resources on my home network when I am out of the house, such as my NAS and build machines. The VPN I use is known as ZeroTier and sadly it only works with the Android client on ChromeOS.