Android apps don’t flop on PCs: The next generation of Windows is Windows 11. The updated operating system brings some significant changes and improvements to Windows 10, including Xbox features in Windows and Microsoft Teams integration. Perhaps the most important announcement at the Windows 11 event, however, was that Android apps are coming to Windows 11.
Running Android apps on the desktop sounds great, and it could fill an important gap in the Windows app library. But the implementation may not be as simple as Microsoft suggests. There are three key things Android apps in Windows 11 need to do to avoid a complete fiasco.
No interference from developers
Windows 11’s implementation of Android is powered by Intel Bridge, which is a “runtime postcompliler,” which Intel says will allow Android apps to run naturally on x86-based systems. The “runtime” part means that the app runs in real time, and the “post-complier” part means that Bridge compiles the code a second time to give the operating system instructions it understands.
That seems simple enough, but as Chrome OS has shown, running Android apps on x86-based systems isn’t always easy. Chrome OS runs a full version of Android, which can run Android apps in a virtual container. The problem is that many apps are written for ARM binaries, which most Android phones run on. This leads to a disjointed Android experience on the Chrome OS, where some apps work, others don’t, and the rest are poorly optimized. Let’s not forget that Google owns both Android and Chrome – and still can’t fix these problems.
After Windows 11 was announced, Microsoft held a panel for developers to talk a little more about Android apps on Windows. The implementation sounds a lot like Chrome OS: apps run in a virtual machine container and require binaries for ARM and x86 processors to work best.
Microsoft and Intel are introducing Bridge technology into Windows 11 for the first time, so we hope to learn more about it in the next few months. If developers have to go back and optimize their applications to work with Bridge, we could find ourselves in a situation similar to Chrome OS.
Optimization for desktops
Developers may not have to update their apps to run on Windows, but they will have to update them to function well on Windows. Google has a list of optimizations that developers should use when creating apps to run on Chromebooks and Android, and Microsoft should release similar guidelines for porting Android apps to Windows.
The most obvious optimization is support for multiple input devices. Windows 11 offers many improvements for touch devices, but the keyboard and mouse are still the primary input method for many. In addition to making clicking and typing work, Android apps on Windows should support mouse wheel scrolling, keyboard shortcuts and, ideally, touchpad gestures.
Working with Android should also be seamless in relation to working with Windows. You may not be able to drag and drop items into the Android window, but apps should still support contextual menus and system inputs like the Windows button and volume wheel.
While this is probably wishful thinking, we’d like to see cross-platform syncing. Automatically browsing Instagram without logging in or navigating to the game you’re staying on would all make it easy for Windows 11 to work with Android. Unfortunately, it sounds like a logistical nightmare without something like Google Play at the core of Android on Windows.
Speaking of which, Google Play is essential to the long-term health of Android on Windows. Android apps will probably appear on Windows, but only some of them. Microsoft will offer Android apps through the Amazon App Store, which has significantly fewer apps than Google Play. You will be able to download and use your favorite Android apps on Windows 11 if your favorite apps also appear in the Amazon store.
To be clear, Amazon still offers the most important apps you could want. It covers major social media platforms, streaming services and the most popular games.
The killer here is Google Play Services. This suite of APIs allows you to sync your gaming progress across devices, log in to accounts using your Google login, and stream content from apps to your TV. Amazon provides a similar set of tools, but Google Play is still the primary way for Android users to access their apps.
The good news is that Microsoft says Amazon is just the first partner it’s working with. Over time, Windows 11 may see other app stores, but it’s unclear how long that will take and whether Google Play is part of the discussion.