Google says Chrome OS 80 will bring easier Android app sideloading for developers
Last week at the Android Dev Summit, Google announced a feature that Chrome OS enthusiasts have wanted for years: the ability to sideload Android apps without enabling Developer Mode. We’ve seen code commits in the past that would have enabled this feature, but none of those implementations ever made their way to the stable channel. Now that Google has officially confirmed this feature will arrive in Chrome OS 80, which is set for a stable release in the second week of February 2020, we no longer need to religiously monitor the Chromium Gerrit for this feature addition.
As you can see in the featured image above, retrieved via AboutChromebooks, Google is adding this feature to let Android app developers deploy their apps straight from Android Studio. With a 22% growth in year-on-year Chromebook sales (from September of 2018 to August of 2019) and the total amount of time spent on Android apps on Chrome OS grown by a factor of 4, Android app developers are incentivized to bring their work to Chromebooks. Developing for Chromebooks requires considerations like how your app reacts to changes in display modes (laptop and tablet), window management (multi-window and free-form windows), and keyboard/mouse input, so it’s recommended to test your app on native hardware. To that end, Google pushed to make Chrome OS more developer-friendly by adding a Linux container last year, enabling the ability to run the Linux version of Android Studio.
While you can develop and build Android apps on a Chromebook, deploying the app is a bit of a headache. Currently, the recommended way to sideload an Android app on Chrome OS is to enable Developer Mode. With Developer Mode enabled, sideloading an Android app is as simple as clicking on your compiled APK file. However, Developer Mode is inherently insecure as it relaxes verified boot protections and grants access to a root shell. It’s also a pain to deal with since it requires powerwashing (factory resetting) your device and dealing with an annoying warning screen that you have to manually bypass on every boot. Thankfully, when Chrome OS 80 rolls out in the stable channel in February 2020, all developers will be able to deploy their Android apps straight from Android Studio onto their Chromebook, without having to enable Developer Mode. If you’re on the Chrome OS Dev channel, you’ll be able to test this out as early as late next month.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Google intends for this feature to be used by end-users. According to the commit that likely implements this feature, this feature requires Crostini (Linux app support) to be enabled, limiting which Chromebooks will have access to the feature. Furthermore, disabling the feature requires a powerwash. If you’re comfortable with the command line, though, sideloading Android apps should be as simple as using “adb install.” Alternatively, you could just “adb push” the APK, enter “adb shell,” and then use “pm install,” right now.