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Exclusive: Google is experimenting with running Chrome OS on Android

Google privately demoed this capability to other companies recently.
By

Published onMay 13, 2024

TL;DR
  • Google has developed a method to run Chrome OS on its Pixel devices.
  • The method involves running a special build of Chrome OS in a virtual machine through the Android Virtualization Framework.
  • The company recently showed this off to its partner companies but did not reveal if it plans to ship this on future Pixel devices.

Although Google originally designed the Android OS around smartphones, it has since updated it to work on other form factors like tablets, watches, TVs, and car dashboards. To compete in the PC market, though, Google created Chrome OS instead of just using Android. Over the years, Google made the two operating systems more synergistic. For example, Chrome OS outright ships with a copy of the Android runtime so that Chromebooks can run Android apps. The reverse — Android devices running Chrome OS software — isn’t possible right now, but that could change in the future as Google is testing a method to run Chrome OS on Android devices.

Update: Want to see Chrome OS running on Android? Check out our exclusive first look.

It’s no secret that many modern Android devices are packed with enough storage, memory, and raw processing power to handle whatever computing tasks the average person would throw at them. Since it already has Chrome OS, Google never felt compelled to make Android more like Windows or macOS. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t tried, though. In fact, there was a time when Google was actively working on creating a hybrid of Android and Chrome OS — code-named Andromeda — that it ultimately scrapped. The reason Google abandoned its plans to merge Android and Chrome OS was that both platforms were already successful, so it’d be more productive for the company to focus on improving each platform.

“For us, there’s no point in merging [Chrome OS and Android],” said Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s VP of Android, Chrome OS, and Play, in late 2016, during an episode of the (now defunct) All About Android podcast. He added, “They’re both successful. We just want to make sure that both sides benefit from each other.” That’s why Android borrowed seamless updates from Chrome OS and why Chrome OS added Android app support. “You’ll see a lot more of that happening, where we’re sort of cross-pollinating,” Lockheimer said later in the podcast. “But not, sort of, a merge.”

True to its word, there’s no evidence today that Google plans to merge the two platforms. However, thanks to a relatively new feature of the Android platform, Google now has the ability to run Chrome OS alongside Android seamlessly. This is made possible by the Android Virtualization Framework (AVF), a feature introduced in Android 13 that provides a secure and private execution environment for highly sensitive code.

chrome os logo google pixel 8 pro 3
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Even though AVF was initially designed around running small workloads in a highly stripped-down build of Android loaded in an isolated virtual machine, there’s technically no reason it can’t be used to run other operating systems. As a matter of fact, this was demonstrated already when developer Danny Lin got Windows 11 running on an Android phone back in 2022. Google itself never officially provided support for running anything other than its custom build of Android called “microdroid” in AVF, but that’s no longer the case. The company has started to offer official support for running Chromium OS, the open-source version of Chrome OS, on Android phones through AVF, and it has even been privately demoing this to other companies.

At a privately held event, Google recently demonstrated a special build of Chromium OS — code-named “ferrochrome” — running in a virtual machine on a Pixel 8. However, Chromium OS wasn’t shown running on the phone’s screen itself. Rather, it was projected to an external display, which is possible because Google recently enabled display output on its Pixel 8 series. Time will tell if Google is thinking of positioning Chrome OS as a platform for its desktop mode ambitions and Samsung DeX rival.

Samsung Dex or Chrome OS on Android, which would you prefer?

3352 votes

Unfortunately, Google did not reveal at the event whether it planned to actually ship a build of Chromium or Chrome OS on any existing or future devices. The company simply demonstrated that it’s now possible to run Chrome OS alongside Android and gave smartphone makers the tools to do so. It’s possible that Google merely used the Pixel 8 as a test bed with no intention of ever shipping Chrome OS on any of its own devices, but we’re really hoping that’s not the case. Virtualization is already an incredibly popular mechanism to run software built for another platform on existing hardware, and many flagship phones have more than enough power, space, and memory to run Chrome OS alongside Android. Hopefully, Google will offer the ability to run Chrome OS alongside Android in a future device because the revamped desktop mode experience that we saw in a recent Android 15 beta looks far from ready.

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