Did you know that you can run Android apps in Google Chrome? Back in 2015, Google launched a tool called ARC Welder, which is designed to let developers test their applications in the Chrome browser so they can be ported to Chrome OS. ARC Welder's primary goal is to make it easy for developers to create more apps for Chrome OS, but the tool can be used by anyone to simply run Android apps in their browser.
It's pretty easy to run Android apps using the ARC Welder, and below we'll show you how. It's worth mentioning, however, that some Android apps don't run particularly well in Chrome, so you'll need to do a bit of experimentation to discover which apps work best.
Install ARC Welder
The easiest part of the whole process is installing ARC Welder. Simply head to the Chrome Web Store page for ARC Welder and click install. After the short installation process is complete, you'll be able to run ARC Welder from the Chrome apps page.
If you have a device that can run Chrome and Chrome apps, you should be able to use the ARC Welder. This means that all desktop operating systems are supported, including Windows 10, macOS, Chrome OS, and Linux. From what we've seen, the tool works similarly well across all operating systems, so you won't necessarily get a better experience switching from Windows to MacOS (for example).
ARC Welder is designed for Chrome OS, though, and the tool does warn you that some "platform specific bugs" exist on other operating systems.
Find Android APKs
ARC Welder is designed to open Android APK files, so you'll have to find and download the APK you want to run. You can't download APK files from the Google Play Store, so you'll have to use a third-party download source.
Here on TechSpot we host many APKs of popular apps, but for more obscure apps and discovery we recommend APKMirror as your Android APK source, primarily because it has a nice interface and you can download older versions of practically every app in their collection if necessary. They even have separate versions of many apps for different processor architectures. AndroidAPKsFree is another reasonable source if you can't find what you're looking for at APKMirror.
Neither website has paid apps, because downloading APKs for paid apps is piracy. If you really want to download a paid app to use with ARC Welder, you'll have to look into that yourself.
Run Them in ARC Welder
When you have your APK ready, simply launch ARC Welder in Chrome, and choose a directory where ARC Welder can write some temporary files. After you've done this, click to find and add the APK you want to try, which will bring you to a page of configuration options. Google says it's best to leave these at their default values. To launch the app, click 'test'.
ARC Welder can only run one app at a time. If you want to open a different app, you'll need to close the app currently in use, load a new APK, click to remove the old APK from ARC Welder, and then launch the new app.
We tried a number of apps in ARC Welder in Chrome 56 on Windows 10, and found that app support is hit or miss. Some key Android apps like Gmail, Maps and Facebook crash immediately after they load, while others like Keep and Microsoft Word hang indefinitely on their load screen. YouTube loads but throws up an error as it doesn't have access to Google Play Services. Instagram doesn't work, and neither does Snapchat. But there's good news! We did find some apps that did work from our brief test period:
- Twitter loads and operates perfectly. Animations are a bit slow, as you'd expect from emulation software, but the experience is decent enough.
- Plex also seems to work. We could play videos in the app with minor audio distortions.
- AccuWeather had some flickering issues at times but did load.
- SpeedTest.net works if you want to do some network performance testing
- Slack works fine
This is Twitter running in ARC Welder in Chrome
Most games we tested did not work, or loaded to a black screen. This isn't hugely surprising, as ARC Welder isn't built to handle complex 3D workloads. An old game like Temple Run does load, but it renders at about 3 frames per second and you can't make it past the menu screen anyway.
But ARC Welder isn't really designed to run Android games in your browser. Instead, it's a tool primarily targeting app developers wanting to port their apps to Chrome OS, which is why non-game apps are much more likely to load and function correctly. Of all the apps we tested, roughly 40 percent of them loaded and worked in ARC Welder.
It can be useful to try Android apps in Chrome if you don't have an Android device handy, but it's far from a perfect Android app emulator. If ARC Welder works with the app you want to test, that's fantastic, but you shouldn't expect every app to load or function as intended in this developer-focused tool.
5 days, 5 killer tech tips is a TechSpot monthly feature
On the third week of every month, we'll publish 5 killer tech tips, one for each day of the week for a given app, service, or platform.
This week we are covering great tips and tricks for the Google Chrome browser.