Android Headliner: Why Chrome OS Needs To Merge With Android

31 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Android only needs to steal one feature from Chrome OS.

plans to merge its Chrome OS for laptops with Android, says a report in the Wall Street Journal, which quotes people who are familiar with the company’s plans. Sundar Pichai, now CEO of Google, speaks during the Google I/O 2015 keynote presentation in San Francisco, Thursday, May 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) In a little over a year, Chrome and Android might be the same thing. According to the report, engineers have been working on the plan for the last two years and the new single OS will be launched in 2017, although an early build could be revealed by next year. Android and Chrome OS SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer has responded to the reports by saying that Google is “very committed to Chrome OS.” Here we go again. We can speculate for days about what exactly this would look like, but the reality is Google will continue bringing Chrome OS features to Android, and vice versa.

Research firm Gartner reported in January that 1.1 billion Android devices were shipped in 2014 – almost as many as iOS phones and tablets, Mac and Windows computers, and all other devices combined. By contrast, Chrome OS accounted for about five percent of laptop sales in 2014, and while top-shelf Chrome OS computers such as the Chromebook Pixel exist, most of those sales were sub-$300 models. Android needs to be modified so that it can run smoothly on laptop and desktop computers, which means supporting keyboard and mouse input, allowing for much larger displays, and letting the system take advantage of high-end graphics cards.

Despite assurances (likely aimed to calm the fears among current and potential partners), doing away with Chrome OS in favor of Android isn’t such a bad idea because of how successful Android has become. And its arrival suggests the supremacy of mobile inside Google, which has prioritized how to best handle the shift away from desktop across all its divisions. Adding the OS to laptops seems like a natural progression of sorts, and would streamline the experience for users on all devices running Google software. The move might also encourage developers who would typically gravitate to iOS first to choose Android/Chrome instead, since it will allow them to reach more customers.

That’s the route Microsoft started down with Windows 8 and continued in Windows 10, which employs “universal apps” that run on tiny phone screens and brawny desktop PCs alike. A separate report from The Verge suggests that Google won’t be killing off the existing operating systems as part of the merger, but instead will create a new merged version as a third operating system that exists in addition to the existing two.

Anonymous Google spokespeople told the Journal and tech site The Verge that Chrome OS isn’t being “killed,” and that the company will continue to manufacture laptops, though those machines will probably have a different name once the software merge happens. Furthermore, Android would benefit from Chrome OS’s security features, which would shore up an area in which the mobile platform has long struggled. Last year, after Pichai was promoted to SVP of all products, he appointed Hiroshi Lockheimer, his anointed successor, as engineering lead for Android and the Chrome OS.

Google has not made an official announcement about the future of either operating system or the possibility of a merged version of the two OS’ hitting the market. Carriers delay the process for technical reasons, but mainly because they want you to buy a new device, not get more features and improvements on your existing one. There are countless examples of this, but the most recent statistic summarizes the problem well: It took Android Lollipop 10 months to hit 20 percent adoption.

Google has somewhat addressed the problem by shoving many features, especially the ones developers need to make better apps, into Google Play Services. It shutters products with user numbers that many companies would kill for (remember Reader?) because they don’t reach the billion-plus of its flagships. Because this is an app, the APK is distributed via the Google Play store, meaning updates are sent down to Android users without anyone but the user being able to stop them. For some time, Google has struggled to juggle both operating systems. (It’s still doing so on television, simultaneously running Android TV and Chromecast.) It’s expensive to maintain both and can be confusing for device makers.

People who have worked with him describe a focus on simplifying Google’s products and historically Byzantine organization, an effort crystalized in a push for a uniform face on products for users and partners, what the company calls “One Google.” However, a key advantage Chrome has is one of Android’s weaknesses. Its security credentials help it with sales to enterprise, particularly to schools, where Chromebook has seen considerable traction; Gartner said the devices will account for 72 percent of the education market this year. If it’s done anything this year (save the whole Alphabet thing), Google has manically reiterated that it does, in fact, have a cohesive plan for mobile. A chief Android distinction from Chrome is that it is built for mobile behavior. “Mobile gives us unique opportunities in terms of better understanding users,” Pichai said on the earnings call. “My long-term view on this is it is as compelling or, in fact, even better than desktop, but it will take us time to get there and we are going to be focused until we get there.”

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