Arguably one of the best parts of being an Android user is knowing that not all apps have to come from the Play Store. Sure, staying put in the Play Store keeps you quite a bit safer and protects against malware in most cases, but there are times when a small developer needs to get you that APK without it passing through the confines of Google’s marketplace.
Those scenarios are varied and exist with varying levels of legitimacy, but they come up pretty frequently for me, anyway.
Up to this point, the ability to sideload APKs on a Chromebook is limited to those willing to put their device into Developer Mode. The task isn’t monumental, but it does take some time. The biggest gripe I have with living in Developer Mode is the lack of secure boot. Secure boot is one of Chrome OS’ most potent tools for stopping malicious attacks on your system. By going to Developer Mode, you kiss this protection goodbye.
For that reason, I tend to stay away from Dev Mode now that I don’t really have a need for Crouton and Ubuntu any longer. There’s just not that much need for me to risk the security given that my day job involves some sensitive materials and passwords for some relatively large websites.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t wish to be able to sideload apps from time to time, though. There are apps that I can’t get through the Play Store because they show up as incompatible, even though I know some of them would work fine. Turns out – according to a great find by Chrome Story – I may soon get my cake and eat it, too.
Work In Progress
Here’s the deal: on my Android phone, I don’t have to jump through hoops to allow sideloaded apps. There’s a quick switch in the security settings and then I’m good to go. I don’t need root access or an unlocked bootloader, I just have to flip a switch that says I understand what I’m doing could endanger my system.
It looks like it will soon be this simple for Chromebook users soon. According to the commit, this will be allowed on the Admin level for managed accounts, so I’d feel fairly certain that we’ll see consumers able to flip that switch for themselves as well.
The upside? First, general consumers will be able to mess with apps that perhaps don’t show up in the Play Store for Chromebooks just yet. For Enterprise or Education users, if an app is written for your business or classroom by a small entity and you want to get your employees or students up and running quickly, you will now be able to simply install from an APK that can be sent out a variety of ways.
I understand Google’s desire to keep things safe and buttoned up, but I’m an advocate of allowing adults to make decisions as long as they understand the risk. This move will accomplish just that, and I’m looking very forward to it.