It finally happened - at least for the Asus Chromebook Flip. All it took was switching to the Developer Channel of Chrome OS on my Flip and the Google Play Store and its multitude of Android Apps were there for the taking.
I wrote previously that the availability of Android apps on Chromebooks would be important for lawyers. That prediction can now be confirmed. Why?
Chromebooks are the most secure laptops a lawyer can carry
Lawyers have special obligations concerning confidentiality of client data. We also have law firm and personal data on our laptops that needs to be protected. It is possible to lock down a Windows 10 laptop (more so that prior Windows versions) or a MacBook to make them relatively secure. But even with your best efforts (and those of your IT people if you work in a firm large enough to have IT people), they will not be as secure as a Chromebook. This is particularly true if you do as you should an enable two-factor authentication on your Google account as well as the accounts for other services your use on your laptop, such as OneDrive (your Microsoft account) and Dropbox. You should do this on all of your online accounts, no matter what platform you use.
You can and should also use a paid virtual private network (VPN) service when connecting to the internet via Wi-Fi any time you are away from your office or home network (or maybe even when you are at your office or home). There are many affordable choices.
Chromebooks are effectively immune from viruses and other sorts of malware. However, you still have to worry about socially engineered phishing attacks to convince you to voluntarily give up information to a hacker masquerading as a legitimate site or service.
Chromebooks are Inexpensive
My Asus Chromebook Flip now costs $266 on Amazon for the 4 GB model (Tip: Only buy a Chromebook with 4 GB of RAM - especially now that they will be running Android apps in addition to the Chrome operating system. A basic 2 GB model may deliver sluggish performance). If the 10.1 inch screen on the Flip is a bit cramped, there are many choices in the 11.6, 13.3, and 14 inch screen sizes (Another tip: Buy only a touch screen model if you plan to run Android apps - Android apps are designed for touch input).
Nearly all Chromebooks, except the high-end Google Pixel, are well under $500 and have zippy performance compared with low-end Windows laptops because the lightweight Chrome operating system, even when running Android apps, requires little processing power. Ask anyone who has used a $200 Windows laptop and a $200 Chromebook which provides a better user experience. The Chromebook will win every time.
Microsoft Office for Android Works Great on a Chromebook
Microsoft has undergone an amazing transformation the last few years. Its new role as a software and services company focusing on the Cloud led it to make its prized Office applications available on both iOS and Android. While these are not the full-featured versions you run on your Windows or Mac computer, they do nearly everything you need to do with legal documents nearly all of the time. Word, PowerPoint & Excel are all available for Android. I have all three running on my Chromebook Flip, and they work very well. I am even running the Outlook Android app, which isn't really a replica of the desktop version of Outlook, but is a superb email client in its own right that integrates with Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It also handles contacts and calendaring.
If you do as I do and use OneDrive as the place where your law practice documents live, everything is available to you from within your Office for Android apps so long as you are online. You can also download files and folders to the (rather limited) storage space on the Chromebook's internal drive. That storage can be expanded with a micro-SD or SD card (depending on which Chromebook model you have), but as of yet, there is no way to access add-in storage directly from Android apps running on a Chromebook. I hope that will change sometime soon.
To paraphrase VP Biden, Android apps on Chromebooks is a "big ******* deal." It is a big deal generally in the tech world, but it is a particularly big deal for lawyers given their need for laptop that is as secure as possible. The fact that it will save money and ease mobile device management (another Chrome OS strength) is an added bonus.
Not everyone will want the Asus Chromebook Flip, the second generation Chromebook Pixel, or the Acer R11, the first three Chromebooks to be able to run Android apps. And not everyone will want to put their Chromebook on the sometimes unstable Developer Channel just to get Android apps. But all of that will change by fall of this year. The ability to run Android apps will, over the next weeks and months, migrate first to the more stable Chrome OS Beta Channel and ultimately to the regular Stable Channel that nearly everyone uses on their Chromebooks.
And the already long list of Chromebooks that will run Android apps this fall will grow. Expect manufacturers to release many new models designed to take advantage of Android apps with larger touch screens, 4 GB or more of RAM, and perhaps even faster processors. We can also expect to see more premium looking and feeling models that lawyers will enjoy carrying as much as they currently like their ThinkPads, Surface Books, and MacBook Airs.