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How to use a Chromebook with an iPhone

Can you happily use a Chromebook and an iPhone? Yup.

When I’m out and about with my Chrome, I often carry an iPhone. Sure, I use Android too: I have about a dozen Android phones from the past few years to choose from and I swap my SIM around regularly. But when I have both the Google laptop and Apple’s handset, people often come up to me and ask: “How can you use an iPhone with a Chromebook?”

The answer is pretty simple to be honest, although you do give up a few features. I use Google’s apps on the iPhone and don’t sync any of my data to iCloud.

What this does is give me a similar experience on my handset, regardless of which phone I’m carrying. And it keeps all of my data in sync between the Chromebook and my phone. Because all of the Google mobile apps I use — such as Drive, Docs, Sheets, Photos (which syncs your iOS device photos to Google’s cloud), Google+, Keep, YouTube, Hangouts, Contacts, Assistant, and Home, to name a few — are tied to my Google account, the data on my phone is always the same as the data on my Chromebook.

The one app I don’t use too much on the iPhone is Chrome, mainly because you can’t set it to be the default browser in iOS. So that’s a bit of a hitch in my workflow when it comes to bookmarks, the Continue Reading function in Chrome OS, and saving articles for offline reading in the browser. To get around the latter issue, I add Evernote to the mix: Between the Evernote extension for Chrome and the ability to share web pages to Evernote in either iOS or Android, I’m pretty much covered. (Note: This article was originally published in 2018, prior to when Apple allowed you to set third-party apps as a default.)

And with Google recently adding Phone Hub functionality, I also miss out on some goodies there with my iPhone. I don’t mind not being able to instantly tether my Pixelbook to my iPhone because it’s pretty simple to enable the hotspot mode in iOS.

But Android Messages for Web? That’s not happening either. I may opt to send text messages in Hangouts at some point because that app works seamlessly on either phone.

In fact, I use Hangouts for chatting with folks even when I have no phone with me because those chats also appear on my Apple Watch. I have the LTE version and often run out of the house without a phone for an hour or two at a time. Chats from Hangouts appear on my Apple Watch as notifications that I can immediately respond to. I generally do that by voice. It works great, to be honest.

I’m sure there are some other gotchas if you want to use an iPhone with a Chromebook. I use an iOS widget for the Google app, for example, tapping it once to have the Google Assistant listen for voice commands. But for me, that and other little workarounds are relatively minor.

I’m not suggesting you should drop your Android device if you’re a Chromebook user. Phone hardware and platforms are personal choices, so use what you want to use.

However, if you thought that you essentially had to use an Android phone because you have a Chromebook, that’s not really the case. Just skip Apple iCloud and the iOS native apps where there’s a Google equivalent, sign in with your Google account credentials, and you’re good to go.

Update: This article was originally published in August of 2018. It has been updated with a note to reflect that Apple removed one of the iPhone limitations mentioned.

author avatar
Kevin C. Tofel

28 thoughts on “Can you happily use a Chromebook and an iPhone? Yup.

  1. Do you have plans to review how Chromebooks work with O365? I’ve been on the Microsoft platforms for years and have no plans to migrate to Google for these services. Thanks.

    1. That’s a good idea although I’ve really gotten away from using most Microsoft products these days. I’ll have to try out O365 again before I do this. Thanks!

      1. Question… I bought a Asus Chromebook for my daughter… I figured for her browsing / gaming / school work it should be ideal… But I did not think of the difficulty in uploading music to her I phone…

        Any ideas on possible workarounds ?

    2. now that I have Iphone12 I cannot get online with my crone book. I can not connect to my interet provider Sparllight ! Hopefully in the very near future I will be on Wabash Fiber its all installed underground last summer and they are beginning to hook us up to service. I can”t wait.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I use a Pixelbook and a “Googlized” iPhone X in perfect harmony. But that said. I’ll be getting the Pixel 3 XL when it’s available.

  3. You mention you don’t use iCloud stuff on the iPhone. Do you at least use the iCloud backup? IMO that’s one of the best Apple features that Google can’t seem to get quite right on phones: the ability to get a new phone and have it completely the same as your last backup. Chromebooks do this after powerwashing and Pixel’s are getting _better_ at it, but still can’t quite remember everything like iCloud

  4. Hello, my first post here but your article resonated with me-

    In 2011 when Apple rolled out iCloud, I switched all syncing to Google services as a means to sync contacts/calendars between my iPhone and Snow Leopard- my Intel Core Duo Macbook unable to update further than 10.6.8 and 10.7 being required for iCloud sync. I plugged along over the years until purchasing a second hand Acer C720 i3 4GB model to tinker with and since it has been a revelation. My setup consists of an iPhone 6S and the C720- as you mentioned, all Google apps and services are the same between devices. I run Ubuntu via Crouton as well and can even sync my iPod Shuffle with Clementine.

    It all is rather seem less and easy. Most everything I need is cross platform or webapps and I do not feel like I’m missing much of OSX. Just wanted to say I appreciate seeing the article as we’re maybe in the minority using an iPhone with a Chromebook- my friends don’t always understand it all as it’s typical to stay within one ecosystem.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Mike. Yup, I think we might be in the minority but that’s mainly because of the mindset you mention at the end: “it’s typical to stay within one ecosystem.” We’ll just keep raising awareness so that people understand they have viable options if they want to go cross platform when it comes to hardware, software and services. 🙂

      1. Agreed- it’s all about finding a system that works best for your needs, and sometimes one’s needs are better served with a cross platform solution. I really enjoy the speed, simplicity, and freedom of ChromeOS. I’ve used iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7 and [for me] the perfect balance of speed and reliability is Google services on iOS…it just took a few years to get here. I hope articles like the one you posted continue to reach others that may be considering ChromeOS, driving the realization that it will support (and often excel at) the typical daily use cases of most- AND work well with an iPhone.

  5. KT-

    The only app I’m feeling isn’t there between iOS and my Pixelbook is NOTES on my iPhones. I have years of notes I’ve kept, and while I’m now starting to use KEEP, it’s not the same for me. Do you have any suggestions? I’ve looked at the Android apps and there were some in the past, but most seem to not really be here any longer.


    1. These days I’m bouncing between Keep and Evernote (which I use for clipping web sites to read offline, as noted). I think I’m going to end up with Evernote, which is also cross-platform, so it works on my Chromebook as well as Android/iOS. Aside from the web clipping feature, it does have a pretty decent note taking feature as well. And you can organize those notes into different notebooks; plus it supports notes created in ink, photo attachments and by voice. There’s also a good search feature although I think if want to search in attachments / handwriting you have to have the Premium subscription. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

      1. I’m kind of in a 3 fold world. In addition to the Samsung Chromebook Pro I recently purchased I have to use Windows for work, we have an iMac and MacBook Pro at home and I have a LG G6 Android phone while my wife and daughters all use iPhones. I like using Keep Notes but it doesn’t work on iOS devices and if there are any notes that I want to share with my family Keep Notes isn’t a good option. What I have moved to is MicroSoft’s OneNote that works with all platforms from Chrome OS to Mac, iOS, Android and of course Windows. OneNote has proved to be great options for me and my family to be able to take notes, and share info.

        1. Keep Notes for iOS devices is a great app. In fact, most of us using Keep Notes in Android would say it’s actually better on an iPhone. And with the web version of Keep Notes, it’s compatible everywhere.

    2. Have you tried onenote by microsoft? It syncs across devices. It lets you set up different notebooks and pages really easily. They are also color coordinated. You should give it a try.

  6. This for the perspective. I have an iPhone issues by work but like the simplicity of a Chromebook for personal use. One area that I have found friction is managing contacts sync between my iPhone and my Google account. I had to setup my Google account on the iPhone but run off mail, calendar, and notes as I prefer the Google apps for those. Have you found any other ways of syncing your Google contacts with your iPhone.

    1. I use an iPhone X and a Samsung Chromebook Pro. I personally just download a VCard as needed for contact sharing. You could also just use the Gmail app on iOS.

  7. I was an iPhone / Chromebook users for years. Worked just like you described.

    This Christmas I switched to the Pixel Phone and finally realized all of the nice features that I had been missing out on! The integration between Android and ChromeOS is wonderful; like working within the iOS ecosystem.

    Yes you can do it, but it’s better if you work within one ecosystem!

    1. No argument there, John. The richest integrated experience is from a single vendor / platform.

    2. Been a Mac user since 1990 and iPhone user since the first iPhone in Australia. I’ve used Android handsets off and on since the G1 but they’ve always been problematic with the number of apps I use and I don’t think I should have to disable settings to get longer battery life like on either platform. Most of my Android phones have been Galaxy phones but had a Nexus 6P and my battery life is never as good as the corresponding iPhone or like I read others getting. Consequently I always end up back on iOS.

      Since the passing of Steve, Apple is just not the same computer company. iOS 11 was the killer for me so Ive been on a Galaxy S9+ for the last 12 months. Was going to try the Huawei P30 pro but Trump has stopped that and am thinking of going back to an iPhone. I’m loving using Chrome OS and will only be better when I get one that can access the Play store and Linux.

      Am really confused right now!

  8. Kevin,

    So is Evernote your bookmark solution or do you also use Chrome Bookmarks? Where is Chrome going with Bookmarks? At the start of a new year, I often start evaluating some inefficiencies in my digital tools and bookmarks always seems to be something that is inefficient and reduces my efficiency. Any insight or best practices would be appreciated.


    1. Yup, I use Evernote for clipping information I want to re-read or use (from a research standpoint) for work. I do also save some blog posts to a “read later” bit in Feedly (via RSS) but I should probably consolidate down to one tool. I like the fact that Evernote has a reader mode function that can be used on nearly any web page as well to clean out the clutter from the copy. Chrome Bookmarks are the kind of tool I use for sites I hit on a very regular basis. For example, I have a “Learning” bookmark folder where I save Java tools, API documentation, sites with practice problems, etc…. very different from the article-centric use of Evernote for me. The main suggestion I can offer is not a single tool but the idea to choose a tool (or tools) that work on nearly all, if not all, of your devices. I’ll take a cross-platform tool over something that’s limited to a single software system any day of the week.

      1. Thanks. Did you see that Google has pulled Collections out of Google+ and Collections is now Menu Item on the Google Waffle. I was also wondering if a private collections could be a bookmark or reader todo. Probably best to stay away from former Google+ products. Thanks again for your response, and happy new year!

      2. You *can* set Chrome as the default browser in iOS. It’s in the Chrome settings in the Chrome app.

        1. Good point, Brian. I actually wrote this article before that took place. I just checked the post history and see that the updates didn’t take, so I’ve made them again to clarify. Cheers!

  9. How about transfering videos taken with iPhone to Chromebook for editing with PowerDirector Play Store App? Can iPhone be cabled to a Chromebook for file transfer? I was surprised that my Pixel 4XL could not be cabled to Pixelbook Go (this works on cheaper Chromebooks), though Nearby Share has now solved that problem. Up & Down to/from the Google Drive is too painful.

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