Hacker Gives Google a Hand With Chrome-Android Compatibility

An unplanned convergence of Android apps and the Chrome OS may be setting the stage for a wide-open cross-platform architecture that combines Android and Chrome.

Freelance programmer Vlad Filippov, aka “Vladikoff,” discovered a way around Google’s limitations on its ARC, or App Runtime for Chrome, which is essentially a Chrome extension application programming interface.

Filippov hacked his way into the Google process to allow it to run on the Chrome OS and other platforms that run the Chrome Web browser. He dubbed that modification “ARChon.”

He worked independently on most of the hack he developed, driven by a desire to go beyond the initial Google Android runtime program.

“I feel like this quick hack helps us get a small glimpse at the future of Android as a truly cross-platform application platform,” Filippov told LinuxInsider.

Hack Overview

The ARChon runtime allows users to run any number of Android APKs in the Chrome OS or other Chrome-browser supporting platforms. Android’s installable programs and middleware are distributed in an APK file format that Google developed.

ARChon creates the modifications so they run using Chromeos-apk on Chrome OS and across any desktop platform that supports Chrome. A Google project already was developing a method to use ARC to run certain Android applications on the Google Chrome OS.

Google last week released four Android apps for Chromebooks based on the ARC API: Vine, Evernote, Duolingo and Sight Words.

Future Impact

“This is a huge development for Android. You do not want a Tower of Babel. Users just want things to work,” Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, told LinuxInsider.

The end game is that you want people to be able to use these APKs. In no way should Google try to rein in a rogue developer, she said, but Google’s intellectual property should count for something.

Generally, application platform owners like Google want to control their ecosystem to some level. This is important for a variety of reasons, Al Hilwa, program director for software development research at IDC, told LinuxInsider.

“For Google, Android is monetized by its ability to take users to its back-end services such as Google Search, Maps, etc. Indeed, Google has been shifting the focus of Android to be something more about its back-end services than just open source code to run devices,” he said.

Google did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Potential Good

Filippov envisions a future when people can enjoy their favorite apps on any device, synchronized and scaled to fit the appropriate screen.

This is a unique opportunity for tablet applications to shine, he said.

“There are not enough good tablet applications for Android, and this might be the key to create experiences that are enjoyable on desktop and tablet form factors,” Filippov added.

Lock-Out Possible

Google has full control of the Chrome browser and the Chrome OS ecosystems, so it certainly is possible that it will include some sort of a validation component in the future to limit this feature to Chrome OS.

“I really hope they will not lock down this approach in the future versions of the runtime, because it creates a great opportunity for people to experience, develop and test Android apps on their favorite desktop platform,” said Filippov.

It’s his hope that most of these components will stay open source as part of the Chromium and Android Open Source projects.

“The threat of ARChon is somewhat limited,” noted IDC’s Hilwa, “in that increasingly more and more Android apps have to effectively leverage Google Services. Additionally, it sounds like it will be a long time before it is possible to run the entire Google Now portfolio on any platform through this technology in a reliable manner.”

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him onGoogle+.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories
More by Jack M. Germain
More in Developers

LinuxInsider Channels