One of the longest-running complaints I’ve had with Android apps on Chromebooks is the lack of consistency across the board from a UI standpoint. From separate app stores to multiple ways to add accounts, Android has always had a bolted-on feel when being utilized on a Chromebook. Even the way apps scale to fit the screen was handled separately at one point along the way, forcing users to navigate to a special Android setting just to get scaling to work on both Android and Chrome apps alike.
Over the years since Android and Chrome OS started hanging out together on Chromebooks, many of these pain points have been neatly addressed and tucked away. Android apps scale up and down with the Chrome OS UI, account access has been unified, and the Play Store feels as much a part of the Chromebook experience as an app store should. The upcoming App Service even gives users a unified place to see all their installed apps regardless of whether they are Android, Linux, or Chrome-based.
So many kinks have been ironed out, but one huge divide still remains and is such a broken part of the overall user experience that it throws a wrench in the daily use of Android apps for many users. That issue lies with the Files app or, more specifically, the lack of Files app integration across the board for file selection. Previously, if you were to open an Android app and then use that app to open up a file to begin working with, you would be taken to the generic Android app picker. This file manager isn’t really an app but more of a core piece of the Android Framework installed on your Chromebook and looks something like this:
It basically worked, but made the entire experience of dealing with files inside Android apps a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition. Many times, the moment you open that file picker, you see a message about there being “no items” to choose from. For inexperienced users, this would be enough to cause some serious concern and confusion as you need to click around in the Android file picker quite a bit to find what you are looking for. Never mind the fact that it only served to remind users that this app wasn’t part of the “real” operating system: it is just an Android app. Experiences like these don’t help anyone and only further the feeling of divide between Chrome OS and Android.
In the latest Stable builds of Chrome OS, however, this headache is now gone. The feature flag for #arc-file-picker-experiment seems to now be switched on by default and, if it isn’t, you can head over to chrome://flags/#arc-picker-experiment and enable it yourself. Once this is in place, you will now notice that the Chrome OS Files app will be the only file manager you are tasked with using. Opening a file in Android? You’ll choose via the standard Files app. Opening a file in a Chrome or Web app? Same thing, same experience.
Along with the other unification tweaks that have come along in the past few months, this new feature will go a long, long way in helping both existing and new users operate in Chrome OS across multiple app ecosystems with a bit more consistency. As an OS that is attempting to bring together the Web, Android and Linux apps, moves like these are giant steps toward a collectively-better user experience.