Last year, Google announced that it would be bringing Android apps to ChromeOS in order to make their laptops and hybrids more versatile. As Android apps have launched, several app developers have optimised their apps for the larger screen including Evernote, Adobe, VLC, and many more. Microsoft also claims to be working on improving its ChromeOS support — but it has a strange way of showing it. Last year, the firm suddenly decided to make its apps unavailable for Chromebooks, offering only two out of the four Office apps in the Play Store and in many cases none.
When questioned on this last year, a Microsoft spokesperson issued the following statement:
Our strategy has not changed. Office for Android is supported on Chrome OS devices via the Google Play Store. While Google Play on Chrome OS is in beta, we are partnering with Google to deliver the best experience for Chromebook users and plan to make the apps available on all compatible devices by general availability
This statement would be fine if we didn’t take into consideration that a year on, Microsoft’s Android apps are still not available via the Play Store. To be clear, Word and Excel are available for installation, but PowerPoint and OneNote are not, for some reason.
Technically speaking, there’s no reason for these Android apps to not be available. I’ve tested them on my Chromebook by sideloading and running them in developer mode, and they seem to run fine. Even if they did, shipping buggy and beta products don’t seem to be a problem with Windows, so it should hardly be a blocker here.
For me personally, the big blocker is OneNote (since Google Docs already easily replaces Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), once my favorite Microsoft app, it is now unpleasant to use it on ChromeOS. There are two ways to access OneNote on a Chromebook, either via the web-app or via the Android app (if you sideload). The issue with sideloading is that you inherently have to make your Chromebook less secure by taking it into developer mode, eradicating the security advantages of using a Chromebook in the first place (in exchange for more power).
The web-app, on the other hand, is a strange beast. Microsoft has made a web-app that works in a way antithetical to how we expect web-apps to work. It is neither fast to load, nor is it easy to navigate, with layers and layers of clunky navigation. Users often have to log in each time they use the app, despite not having to do so for OneDrive, Outlook and other Microsoft web-apps.
In the end, it became easier to simply use Evernote and/or Simplenote for note-taking. Both of which have simpler and prettier web-apps, a well designed Android app, and apps for my Windows desktop and iPhone.
I’m probably not the only one using this mental calculus. As Chromebooks are primarily — in the US at least — used by a majority of the K-12 students, it is easier for many to simply use Google Apps or one of Microsoft’s rivals readily available web and Android apps in sync with their mobile phone (most certainly an iPhone or an Android), then jump through hoops to use OneNote.
This seems superficially similar to the case where Google refused to provide a YouTube app for Windows phone and then forced Microsoft not to make its own “official” Windows phone app. In that case, however, Google did not have a fully functional Windows Phone app that they dangled just out of reach. One wonders, looking at Microsoft’s tit for tat treatment with Chrome and security disclosures, and Google’s recent PixelBook launch, if Microsoft has decided that it values a petty rivalry with Google over actually taking care of paying customers.