Thanks to a group of impressive developers, Android apps can run on Linux (with the help of Google Chrome). How is this possible?
Well, at this year’s Google I/O (Google’s development conference), the company announced that soon it would be possible to run Android apps seamlessly on ChromeOS. Google stated that they’d be partnering with top application developers to bring their apps over to ChromeOS using the new technology. Recently, Google released 4 apps onto the Chrome app store. They were soon reverse engineered. Eager hackers tore apart the Chrome apps wondering how it all worked. Soon after, two pieces of software were born. The first was “Chromeos-apk,” piece of software that could take ANY apk file and essentially do the same thing Google has done, albeit a bit dirty and with a limit of only four apps at a time. It worked. Chromebook users soon rejoiced as it meant they could have almost any app they could think of on their operating system of choice. It was exciting to say the least.
Enter the “ARChon custom runtime”. This piece of software, well, frankly, is amazing. It removed the ability to only use four Android apps, essentially replacing Google’s own runtime. ARChon also made it possible to run these apps on Linux, Mac and Windows. So now ChromeOS users aren’t the only ones feeling the love. With this tool, there are endless possibilities. Essentially, the runtime is a hack and is by no means stable. The developer says it’s a proof of concept. It’s buggy and often hit or miss, but it’s still cool nonetheless.
Getting APK files
In order for the conversion to work, you’ve got to get your hands on an Android package file. There are two ways of doing this. You could go onto Google and search for any APK (which is unsafe). If you don’t have any Android device, this is your only option. Alternatively, if you own an Android device, you can install an app by the name of App Backup & Restore.
Essentially what this app does is take any other app installed on your device and exports an APK file to your device’s storage area. All you need to do now is to install the app on your phone and use “App Backup & Restore” to backup the app into an apk.
Using your file manager, find a folder named “App_Backup_Restore.” All exported APK files will be located there. Take the APK file off of your device and place it somewhere on your computer.
Setting things up
To convert the files, you’ll need a few things. First thing’s first. Download Google Chrome. Arch Linux users: Google Chrome is available in the AUR. This will NOT work with Chromium. It must be Chrome 37 or higher.
Another thing you’ll need is Node-JS. Open a terminal window and enter the commands below.
Along with node-js and all that, you’ll need the following.
Open your package manager of choice and search for “nodejs”. Chances are you won’t need “nodejs-legacy”. That’s an Ubuntu thing.
With node-js installed, Chromeos-apk can be too. Using the terminal, enter this command.
Installing the runtime
The ARChon custom runtime must be loaded into Chrome for any Android converted apps to work. Install it by downloading the runtime here. Once downloaded, extract the .ZIP file and take note of the folder that came out of it.
Open the extension page of Google Chrome (done fastest by typing
chrome:extensions and pressing Enter in the address bar) and check the box that says developer mode.
Now that developer mode is enabled, it’s time to load ARChon. Click the load unpacked extension button, find the folder that you extracted earlier and point Chrome to it. Soon after, you’ll see ARChon Custom Runtime 1.0 in your extensions list.
Note: Ignore the warnings that are listed, they don’t matter.
Converting APK files
Now that Chrome, the runtime, node-js and chromeos-apk are all installed, APK files can finally be converted. Open a terminal window and cd into the directory where the APK file is located. Once there, enter this command.
Want a bigger window? Try this.
Installing the apps
After conversion, a Chrome extension folder will be created in the same exact place the APK is. To install it, do it just like the ARChon runtime. Go to the extension page in Chrome, click load upacked extension and point Chrome to the newly created folder.
When the app is installed, just go to the new tab page in Chrome and click apps. You’ll be able to launch the Android app from there.
Chromeos-apk and the ARChon custom runtime truly are some exciting pieces of technology. With the help of these two programs anything is possible. We truly live in an exciting time. Who’d have thought that in just a few years after Android’s release, we’d be running its applications on Linux with the help of a web browser. Tell us in the comments what apps you’ve had success getting to work! Enjoy!