Exclusive: Google is experimenting with Chrome OS on Android

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 via the Android Virtualization Framework.
  • The company recently showed it to its partners, but didn’t say whether it plans to ship it to future Pixel devices.

Although Google originally designed the Android operating system for smartphones, it has since updated it to work on other forms such as tablets, watches, televisions, and car dashboards. However, to compete in the PC market, Google created Chrome OS instead of just using Android. Over the years, Google has made the two operating systems more synergistic. For example, Chrome OS ships directly with a copy of the Android runtime, so Chromebooks can run Android apps. The opposite — Android devices running Chrome OS — isn’t possible at the moment, but that could change in the future as Google tests a way to run Chrome OS on Android devices.

It’s no secret that many modern Android devices are packed with enough storage, memory, and raw processing power to handle any computing task 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. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t tried. In fact, there was a time when Google was actively working on a hybrid of Android and Chrome OS – codenamed Andromeda – which it eventually scrapped. The reason Google abandoned its plans to merge Android and Chrome OS was because both platforms were already successful, so it would be more productive for the company to focus on improving each platform.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to merge.” [Chrome OS and Android]” said Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s vice president of Android, Chrome OS and Play in late 2016 during an episode of (now defunct) All about Android podcast. He added: “Both are successful. We just want to make sure both sides benefit.” That’s why Android borrowed seamless updates from Chrome OS, and why Chrome OS added support for Android apps. “You’re going to see a lot more of what happens when we cross-pollinate,” Lockheimer said later in the podcast. “But no, sort of a merger.

True to its word, there is 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 seamlessly run Chrome OS alongside Android. 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.

logo chrome os google pixel 8 pro 3

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Although AVF was originally designed to run small workloads in a highly stripped-down build of Android loaded in an isolated virtual machine, there’s technically no reason why it couldn’t be used to run other operating systems. In fact, it was demonstrated back in 2022 when developer Danny Lin ran Windows 11 on an Android phone. Google itself never officially provided support for running anything other than its own build of Android called “microroid” in AVF, but that’s no longer the case. The company has started offering official support for running Chromium OS, the open-source version of Chrome OS, on Android phones through AVF, and has even privately demonstrated it to other companies.

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

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

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Unfortunately, Google didn’t reveal at the event whether it actually plans to ship Chromium or Chrome OS builds to any existing or future devices. The company simply demonstrated that it was now possible to run Chrome OS alongside Android, and gave smartphone makers the tools to do so. It’s possible that Google was just using the Pixel 8 as a test device with no intention of shipping Chrome OS to any of its own devices, but we really hope that’s not the case. Virtualization is already an incredibly popular mechanism for running 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 option to run Chrome OS alongside Android in a future device, as the revamped desktop mode we saw in the recent Android 15 beta is far from ready.

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