On Wednesday, Google opened the beta of its latest developer tool—the App Runtime for Chrome, or ARC—to anyone on any computer running the latest version of the Chrome browser. With the ARC Welder app installed in your browser, you can theoretically run any Android app in a virtual environment without having to use any actual Android devices. Better yet, ARC Welder makes porting an Android app into a Chrome app ridiculously simple.
In theory, ARC should also let anyone run an Android app install file (typically referred to as APKs because of their .apk file extensions) right on their PCs or Macs. In practice, however, that’s just not the case—at least not yet.
What It Means For Developers
ARC Welder’s implications go a step beyond previously released development tools. For starters, it offers a quick-and-dirty way to test unfinished apps without having to fire up an integrated development program like Google’s Android Studio or to load them on separate devices. It might conceivably also be an easy way for independent developers to get feedback on early app versions from friends, family and colleagues, not all of whom may have Android devices to run them.
But where ARC Welder sets itself apart is that it actually turns Android apps into Chrome apps with a few mouse clicks. Which could in turn vastly expand the software available for Google’s steadily expanding lineup of Chromebook computers.
Essentially, ARC Welder can vastly reduce the time and energy it might take for a developer to bring an app onto the desktop (or laptop, or MacBook, or Chromebook, or Chromebit…). Considering the Google Play Store’s robust library, not to mention the popularity of the Chrome browser across nearly every computing platform, this kind of tool could potentially give app developers a huge leg-up in terms of spreading their wares.
Maybe ARC Welder could actually start to convince developers to target Android first, iOS second, instead of the typical other way around.
What It Means For The Rest Of Us
Running Android apps on my PC has been high on my wish list for a while, mostly so I could play some Android-specific games that would really benefit from greater screen real estate. A year or so ago I experimented with Bluestacks and was relatively happy with the results, but it was still plagued with general bugginess and crashes.
I had hopes that ARC Welder could do much the same thing with fewer hiccups, since it came directly from Google. Alas, it was not to be.
Google isn’t kidding around by calling ARC Welder a beta release. After testing apps ranging from Angry Birds to Google Maps to Yahoo Weather to Instagram, I came up empty handed. I wasn’t able to make any of these apps run on my PC once—despite following instructions posted by 9to5Google to the letter. I should note that I tried downloading APKs from the site the post recommends, APKMirror, as well as backing up APK files from installed apps on my smartphone and moving those files to my PC for testing. None of them worked.
Interestingly, three other ReadWriters tried it out, all with varying successes and failures. Out of the four of us, only two managed to get ARC Welder to run Android apps on their computers—and of the two of them, one was on a Mac and the other on a PC. Both downloaded the Yahoo Weather app from APKMirror—the same one I and the other tester downloaded and failed to run.
And the problems aren’t limited to us—the ARC Welder support page is full of comments from users who experienced similar problems with apps that failed to launch, among others. I asked a developer friend of mine what I might be doing wrong, and he summed it this way: “Generally Google stuff in dev is pretty raw.”
The upshot here is that ARC Welder offers plenty of promise for developers, and may eventually turn into a stable tool for us non-developers who want to enjoy Android-specific apps on our desktops. But for now, it’s probably best to leave the ARC welding to the professionals.
Images courtesy of Google