For as long as Android apps have been available on Chromebooks, I’ve been trying to play PUBG Mobile on them. If you’ve been around here for any amount of time, you know that this squandered dream of mine has never fully come to fruition and much to my chagrin, we’re really no closer today than we were 5 years ago to that reality. The issues are multi-pronged, but it all eventually just comes down to the developers not really caring too much about making sure the game is optimized for Chrome OS.
Though Google has gone above and beyond to make things easier for Android developers to make their apps perfectly usable, scalable and enjoyable on Chromebooks, the fact of the matter is many of them still do not. And without those steps taken – however simple and straightforward they may be – many Android apps continue to languish as overall poor experiences on Chromebooks even though they don’t really have to be.
The issues tend to fall in one of 3 categories: performance, scaling, and/or input methods. As an example of performance issues, apps that aren’t optimized for x86 (Intel/AMD) chips can exhibit anything from poor graphic quality to full-blown crashes. With scaling issues, even though performance may be fine, many apps aren’t set up to fully leverage the screen size available on a Chromebook. Generally speaking, if an app isn’t good on a larger tablet, it isn’t great on a Chromebook, either. And we all know how great the Android tablet ecosystem is.
Keyboard and Mouse input for Android games
We found a commit last week (and lost it in the shuffle until Android Police posted about it yesterday) that unfortunately won’t fix those first two issues, but does hold the promise of taking care of the third major hurdle in Android app compatibility for Chromebooks I listed above: keyboard and mouse input. While my White Whale – PUBG Mobile – suffers from both of the first two issues above, the biggest drawback is the fact that keyboard and mouse input only works for about 5% of the controls. Sure, mobile games tend to discourage external input methods, but I still would love the option to enable them and play with other players doing the same if I so choose or, if I’m on a Chromebook that has no touch input, still be able to enjoy the game. If a new flag ends up showing up for Chromebooks in the future, we may at least have a fix for those types of issues in the future.
Based on this commit, there’s a chance that Chromebooks will get a way to map keyboard and mouse input to game functions in the future. Granted, it appears that not all Android games will support this and will actually need to include some sort of input overlay configuration. I’m not 100% sure what that entails, but it does mean that this won’t be a fix-all for Android games on Chromebooks across the board when it comes to keyboard/mouse input.
For now, this is all we know about this very early, very experimental flag. I’m hopefully skeptical at this point, but it would be nice to have the ability to map some keys on a game that is otherwise unplayable if your Chromebook doesn’t come with a touch screen. I know it may not work for all games and I’m completely ready to watch it not work with PUBG Mobile, but a guy can dream, right? We’ll be keeping tabs on this as the weeks progress and, hopefully, it will show up in the Canary Channel of Chrome OS before too long.