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For Chromebooks, Android Apps Need To Keep Running In The Background

We talked about the long progression of Android apps coming to Chromebooks just yesterday, and while the progress is pretty great, there are still some things that need to get fixed.

And the sooner, the better.

One of those things is the lack of ability for Android apps to fully run in the background. On a phone, this isn’t really noticeable. When you switch from one app to another, the app you just left pauses in the background. Sure, there may be a part of it that continues to work (like notifications or playing media), but the overall function of that app is paused in the background.

For phones, this completely makes sense for a couple reasons.

First, most users are only working in one app at a time. Apart from a video or song playing in the background, we don’t really find much use in an app continuing to run while not on the screen. Android does a great job at keeping things paused right where you left them, and this gives the user the benefit of not losing their place when leaving an app while at the same time not draining the battery and system resources while an app isn’t in use.

Secondly, how many times have you opened the multitask view and had 20, 30 or more app cards staring back at you? It is the nature of the OS. We open an app, go to the home screen, open an app, return home, repeat. Rarely do I think to go and clean those “open” apps out, and I don’t really want to feel like I have to all the time.

Now, think about your desktop. If you have a browser, note taking app, word processor, graphics program, messaging app, etc. all open and are finishing up what you are doing before lunch, don’t you routinely glance around the desktop to see what all you’ve left open and close up the stuff no longer in use? I know I do.

Mainly because the apps and programs are right in front of me in little windows. It is all laid out before of me and easy to see. Cleaning up the desktop is a normal thing when on a bigger screen and it is easier to manage since there aren’t running apps hiding in the background.

The Issue On Chromebooks

I say all that above to highlight the difference in mobile and desktop behaviors both with the OS and the user. Sure, some of you will say you do all sorts of other things on phones and laptops in reference to keeping apps open, and that is fine. I’m speaking of the majority, here.

So, when the majority of us hop on a Chromebook and have a few windowed Android apps up and running, it is hard to remember that those apps are in a paused state unless put back into focus.

Take Google Analytics, for example. I like checking real-time stats on our site to see how many people are on and what they are looking at. It is helpful to keep in view and I’d love to just have that app up and running on my Chromebook.

Here’s the problem: it is an Android app made to behave like it is on a phone. When I click on anything else, those real-time metrics pause. So, if there are 115 people online and I click away to something else, when I glance back at that app a few minutes later, it will still read 115. Not until I click the app window does it update and show me the real number.

This is only one example, but depending on the app, the behavior feels very odd on a desktop.

For the majority of users, this behavior simply doesn’t work and makes the Android experience still feel bolted-on rather than completely integrated.

When we start talking about the Pixelbook and how it could bring mass awareness of Chromebooks to the common consumer, things like this need to be addressed. If I don’t know the backstory or what it has taken to get Android apps on Chromebooks, I may not even realize the difference between Chrome OS and Android, web app or Android app. And I likely won’t understand why my apps just stop when I click into another window.

I don’t think Google wants most people to think about all that.

Order The Google Pixelbook on Amazon

When we look at their new primer videos for the Pixelbook, for instance, we see very little in the way of Chrome OS this or Android that. We instead see the basics. Here are your files, here’s where you get apps, here’s the Assistant.

For Chrome OS to become more mainstream, this is the way things need to be, and frankly, in that reality, quirks like paused-state apps just won’t do.

There are other issues like this, too, but we’ll chat about those in a follow-up post. For now, here’s hoping Google approaches these things soon and gets them fixed quickly.