To say the transition to the newer Android container on Chromebooks (ARCVM) has been a long, painful journey would be a massive understatement. Started well over 2 years ago, ARCVM is a new way of delivering Android apps on Chromebooks versus the older ARC++ container. It handles display scaling much better and gives developers a more-flexible way to handle Android apps both now and in the future. For now, it also comes with Android 11: a big step up from the Android 9 build ARC++ Chromebooks are stuck with here in 2023.
Is ARCVM perfect? Unfortunately, no, but I do enjoy stability improvements on Chromebooks that I test with ARCVM on board in relation to Android apps. While I don’t use a ton of them on a regular basis, there’s a more-native feel to Android on ChromeOS when ARCVM is involved and I do appreciate it. And yes, I do fully realize it is ridiculous that Chromebooks are still fooling around with Android 11 at this point in 2023.
Here’s the thing, though: many newer Chromebooks come with ARCVM on board, but there are still quite a few that don’t. And of those Chromebooks that still ship with ARC++, ARM-powered devices by far make up the largest category. As this post goes out, ARC++ is still the standard for all ARM-based Chromebooks on the market, including powerful ones like the Acer Chromebook Spin 513 with the Kompanio 1380 inside.
With ARM-based Chromebooks having the ability to more-natively run Android apps (Android app are built for phones/ARM processors first in nearly every case), you’d think this newer container would be a great fit for them, but so far that hasn’t been the case. We’ve yet to hear a clear and concise answer on what is taking so long for ARCVM to reach the majority of Chromebooks, and the lack of the better container and included upgrade to Android 11 is sorely felt when using devices not-yet included in the ARCVM party.
A light at the end of the tunnel with Snapdragon 7c+ Gen 3
For the first time, we’re seeing signs of life for ARCVM on ARM-based Chromebooks, however, thanks to a find in the Chromium Repositories. There’s been some work done to push compatibility standards for ARCVM on Chromebooks with the SC7280 (Snapdragon 7c+ Gen 3) on board, so that means devices with this SoC inside should ship with ARCVM on board. Take a look.
As you can see, codec work is being done specifically for the ARCVM container on boards with the Snapdragon 7c+ Gen 3. In one of those commits, we see the reference to this chipset being “powerful enough to handle it.” So, perhaps there is a performance barrier that needs to be reached before Google puts ARCVM in place, but that still doesn’t quite explain the lack of it on the Acer Chromebook Spin 513.
Either way, ARCVM is finally making the jump to ARM. I feel confident that 7c+ Gen 3 devices are just around the corner, so that means we’ll finally get a look at a more-modern Android framework running on an ARM-powered device when those finally do start hitting the market. While it won’t be a revolution, its a sorely-needed upgrade that I’m looking forward to testing out in the (hopefully) near future.