If you want as consistent an experience as possible, choose devices from a single vendor. For example, if you plan to use both a phone and a laptop, either pair an iPhone with a MacBook Air (or MacBook Pro) in the Apple ecosystem or an Android phone with a Chromebook in the Google ecosystem. Modern macOS laptops let you run many iPhone and iPad apps, and modern Chromebooks let you run many Android apps. Sign-ins, settings and data sync remain relatively consistent when you stay within a single ecosystem.
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However, people often pair devices from different vendors, such as an iPhone user who also uses a Chromebook. Purchase price considerations can be significant: Apple offers a new MacBook Air starting at $999 (or $899 in the education store), while a new Chromebook may cost as little as $140, with many Chromebooks priced $399 or less. The fast startup speed and ease of management have prompted many school systems to choose Chromebooks, as well.
In my experience, plenty of people realize that Google’s apps work on multiple platforms (e.g., Android, Chrome OS, iPhone, iPad OS, macOS, Windows and Linux), as addressed in the first section below. Far fewer people are aware that several key Apple apps may be used from a browser. These browser-based iCloud apps, along with a few notable omissions, are covered in the second section below.
Google centric: How to use Google apps on a Chromebook and iPhone
The simplest way to use a Chromebook and iPhone together is to leverage Google accounts and apps, since they tend to work smoothly on both devices.
On a Chromebook, of course, all the apps work in the browser as you expect. Sign in with a Google account and then access Gmail, Google Meet, Chat, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Keep, Photos, as well as nearly every other Google service, including Maps, YouTube and YouTubeTV (Figure A).
On an iPhone (or iPad, for that matter), you can sign in with your Google account within Apple’s apps, such as Mail and Calendar. Or, simply install the iOS apps that Google provides. Each of the apps listed in the prior paragraph is available from the iOS apps store, as shown in Figure A. Additionally, you’ll likely want to install Chrome and set it as your default browser. You may choose to sync your browser history, bookmarks and passwords between Chrome on iOS and a Chromebook.
There are, however, a couple general limitations to be aware of when you use a Chromebook and iPhone with Google’s apps as your main solution. First, not every Google service is available for both Chrome OS and iOS. For example, while you may fill out a Google Form or view a Google Site on an iOS device, you may only create and edit Forms and Sites with the full Chrome browser, such as on Chrome OS, not on iOS. Second, Google often makes features available on the web first, with a subset of features supported within Google mobile apps. For example, as of late April 2022, the ability to autodetect Markdown works in Google Docs on Chrome OS, but not in the Google Docs app on iOS.
If you do choose a Google-centric approach for apps on an iPhone, I recommend you rely on Apple for a couple core services. To automatically save data, apps and photos to iCloud, enable iCloud backup on your iPhone. To ensure that you can remotely locate, lock, ring or erase your iPhone if lost or stolen, enable Find My on your iPhone.
Apple centric: How to use Apple apps on an iPhone and Chromebook
Alternatively, you may prefer an Apple ID and Apple apps as your primary set of software and services. Sign in to your iPhone and use Mail, Calendar, iCloud Drive, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Photos and Reminders, among other apps.
When you want to use your Chromebook, you will still need a Google account to sign in to the device. Then, open Chrome and login in to iCloud.com with your Apple ID and password. You may need your iPhone (or iPad) nearby to approve access. As you sign in, you may select options both to keep your Apple account signed in and to trust the computer—both of those options help minimize the number of additional prompts you’ll receive to reauthenticate (Figure B).
Once signed in, you may select from any of the iCloud apps displayed (as shown in Figure B). As of late April 2022, these include Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Photos, iCloud Drive, Notes, Reminders, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, News Publisher and Find iPhone. (Note that News Publisher is for people who provide content to Apple News. Access to Apple News and News+ requires an Apple device.) Otherwise, you may use each of these apps while signed in to iCloud in the Chrome browser: send an email, manage your calendar and reminders, take notes, create, edit and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations, or view, download or upload files to iCloud Drive. (If you subscribe to Apple’s entertainment apps, Apple Music and Apple TV+, also work on a Chromebook, although you may need to sign in again.)
As above, there is one significant limitation to be aware of when you use an iPhone and Chromebook with Apple’s apps as your main solution: The lack of access to significant Apple apps on a Chromebook. Apple’s messaging and meeting apps, iMessage and Facetime, aren’t available on non-Apple platforms. Safari isn’t available on Chrome OS, so if you want your browser history, bookmarks or passwords to sync, you’ll either need to use Chrome on an iPhone or use a third-party browser (e.g., Firefox) with an Android app that can be installed on a Chromebook. Apple Maps works only on Apple devices, although you can go to DuckDuckGo.com on a Chromebook and search for an address, since DuckDuckGo results rely on Apple Maps.
What’s your experience?
If you use both a smartphone and laptop, what platforms do you prefer for each? Do you stick with a single ecosystem (e.g., all in on Apple, Google) or a mix (e.g., a phone from Apple or Google, with a computer that runs Windows or Linux)? If you use an iPhone with a Chromebook, what mix of services and apps do you use on each device? Are there other core apps you find either helpful—or notably missing—on one platform or the other? Let me know what your mono- or multi-ecosystem usage experience has been, either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).