The latest development: Andy
Rubin, who has run the Android mobile operating system since 2004, even
before it was acquired by Google, is stepping down. Taking over Android
will be Sundar Pichai, currently the head of Google's Chrome web
browser and Chrome OS project. And here's where Google shows its hand:
Even as he takes on new responsibility for Google's mobile strategy,
Pichai will remain in charge of Chrome.
Somewhere in the afterlife, Steve Jobs just yelled, "Boom!"
distinction between PCs and mobile devices is blurrier than ever, and
Google seems to be setting itself up for the moment when Android (for
mobile devices) and Chrome (for PCs) become one.
In 2011, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said that Android and Chrome OS would some day fuse.
Android currently runs the majority of smartphones in the world, while
Chrome OS is Google's successful but still nascent attempt to provide
people with an alternative to Windows on their notebook and desktop PCs.
Putting a single person in charge of both Android and Chrome at once
is rather transparently the fastest way to get both projects headed
toward some kind of union.
The baffling, tantalizing Chromebook Pixel.AP/Jeff Chiu
Google recently released the Chromebook Pixel, a high-powered laptop that only runs its own Chrome OS.
The operating system is good, but it isn't nearly as capable as Windows
or Mac OS X, and its primary talent right now is a great web browsing
experience and native integration with Google's cloud services like
Gmail and Drive. In other words, it's great for cheap laptops, but
Chrome OS simply isn't doing anything taxing enough to warrant all the
horsepower and expense of the Chromebook Pixel. Reviewers savaged it accordingly.
now we see where Google is going with all of this. Like the operating
system that runs on Apple's iPhones and iPads, one of the strengths of
Android is its enormous library of "native" apps--that is, applications
that you download to the device before using. Native applications can do
things web-based applications still can't, like intensive video
editing and high-end gaming.
Once Google fuses Android and Chrome
OS, Chrome will get the huge library of native applications that it
currently lacks, and Android could gain the desktop-like features that
make Chrome so useful for getting real work done. Some of these
advantages are quite simple: Chrome has true "windowing," which means
that the web applications running on it can be run in individual windows
instead of browser tabs or, as is common in mobile operating systems,
as full-screen apps.
AVOIDING MICROSOFT'S MISTAKES
Valve CEO Gabe Newell called Windows 8 "this giant sadness."AP/Elaine Thompson
all this sounds familiar, it's because the exact same vision animated
Microsoft Windows 8, which puts a mobile and tablet-friendly interface
alongside regular old Windows. But most people have found that fusion
leads to unacceptable compromise.
Here's the key difference for
Google, if Chrome and Android merge: Google does not have to support a
huge population of existing users of its desktop operating system.
Chrome OS is only four years old, and it wasn't until recently that
cheap laptops pre-loaded with Chrome OS made it the least bit mainstream.
strength is also its weakness: Millions of businesses have built
applications on top of Windows that Microsoft must support with each
successive version of Windows. Google's primarily obligation, on the
other hand, is to the hundreds of millions of people who already use
Android, a lightweight, stable, constantly improving operating system
that is already close to being capable of allowing users to do "real"
work with it.
Unburdened by the need for backwards compatibility
and empowered by all the lessons tallied so far by the PC industry,
Google has the chance to create an operating system that spans all
devices and is truly workable--not just a kludge like Windows 8.
ANDROID + CHROME = $$$
With Google selling hardware like its Nexus 7 tablet more or less at cost, the company remains dependent on advertising.AP/Ahn Young-joon
Google doesn't charge a licensing fee to the companies, like Samsung,
that make billions of dollars selling mobile devices that run Android.
Google's only way to make money from Android is through the Google Play
store, where it sells apps, and so far the Play store is not a material
portion of Google's income.
But a fused Android and Chrome OS
opens up a number of new potential revenue sources for Google. Foremost
among them is simply charging for future Google services. While Gmail
might always be free, Google is happy to charge users to store their
data. As people move more and more of their lives to the cloud, Google
could potentially lock them into life-long subscriptions to its data
storage and other services.
Google is already accomplishing this at the enterprise level with the per-user subscriptions to a suite of Google apps.
THE AGE OF CLOUDS
move to fuse Chrome OS and Android is perfectly in line with its
identity as an internet company. Chrome OS epitomizes Google's view that
no matter what device you pick up, simply logging in should present you
with the same experience, no matter what. Google recognizes that what users want isn't control but fluidity.
People want that moment in the movie Avatar,
when a character swipes a document from a flat panel monitor onto his
tablet computer, so he can carry it around with him as he walks. We live
in an age in which, Google Docs and iCloud and Microsoft Office 365
notwithstanding, the dominant method for sharing data between computers,
even computers owned by a single person, is still email. What we could
have, instead, is a single unified digital life that is abstracted into
the cloud. In this world, every device, no matter its size or
capabilities, is simply as a window into our online workspace. A world
in which all screens are created equal.
Google is trying to
realize this vision, but so far its expression--force users into a Chrome
OS in which everything is run through the browser--has felt limited. But
these are the early days, and the company's larger ambitions have yet
to be realized. The only question is, will it be called Chandroid or