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Will Chrome and Android Merge?

Many rumours have been circling about Chrome and Android merging since Andy Rubin step down as Android lead, but how likely are these rumours?

In the past week we have seen key personnel moves within Google. Andy Rubin step down as the Android lead to oversee a new unannounced product within the Google X Lab. While this moved was rather surprising, and a few publications rather stupidly called this the end of Android. Actually, when you think about who Andy Rubin is and what he is great at, it is startups. We have seen him manage startup projects within Danger and later on develop a open mobile operating system to become the most widely used mobile platform in the world.

Android has outgrown Rubin. Andy can develop and manage a project from its early begins and ship a great product, but he prefers starting project rather than long-term management of major products. Android no longer needs Andy Rubin, its time for Android to grow stronger under a new leadership.

Within Google, there really is no other choice to take on Android. Sundar Pichai has been incredibly successful within Google, leading Chrome from its early beginnings to now the most used web browser in the world. He has guided Google Apps to enterprise success, and pioneered the Chrome OS platform which has seen significant success in 2012. He has had a proven track record to be able to lead a product to success. This is why Sundar has taken on Android.

Sundar Pichai - VP for Android, Chrome and Google Apps

Sundar Pichai – VP for Android, Chrome and Google Apps

This move has sparked discussions on when Android and Chrome will merge, which has been speculated for many years since the launch of Chrome OS. However, Eric Schmidt has denied that the merger will happen in the near future, but it could be a long term goal but it is some way off. However, Eric did conclude that they will share similarities.

“certainly going to remain separate for a very long time, because they solve different problems”

Why can’t Android and Chrome merge yet?

I believe there is probably two main roadblocks stopping the merge, development teams and user interface.

Currently Chrome and Android operate on two different development cycles. The Chrome team releases every 6 weeks and the Android team releases a new major version every 3-5 months. It will difficult to sync these two release schedules up, and what compromise with they come to. Will we see a 6 week release cycle of this new merged OS or a much longer release cycle?

Speaking of development, do the Chrome and Android team have time to develop a new OS while keep their current products supported. Both teams work at break-neck speeds as it is, and already support many different releases of their product. Take the Chrome team for example; they release a Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS versions of Chrome, each platform has its own beta and development channels and there is also Chrome OS. By my count, the Chrome team maintain 16 versions of Chrome.

Finally, designing an User Interface which supports both touch and mouse based input is incredibly challenging and will take time to develop. With the same UI work on a 13 inch Chromebook, a 10 inch tablet, 7 inch tablet and a 4 inch smartphone. Microsoft is already having a hard time convincing users that Windows 8 works great on their desktop and tablet, never mind a 4 inch smartphone. When Eric commented that merge OS is a very long way into the future, it is likely the UI which will take time to develop.


What similarities could Chrome and Android share?

I see Schmidt’s comment on sharing similarities, is what Apple is currently doing with iOS and Mac OS. In the past two releases of Mac OS X, Apple have been porting features from iOS to OS X. Such as Reminders, Messages, Launchpad, Notification Centre, etc. Basically, Apple is providing similarity within its operating systems, but not merging them. Like Google, Apple recognises that currently touch-based operating systems are not great with mouse and keyboard and vice-versa. That is why iOS is for touch-based computing, and OS X is for mouse-based computing.

So what similarities could Chrome and Android share? Well, we are starting to see these similarities. Since the Aura desktop update to Chrome OS, aspects like the Settings Panel and App Panel have been taken from Android. Google Now and Notification Centre are moving to Chrome OS this year from Android, plus a unified Messaging application will feature both platforms. Chrome and Android do have syncing capabilities between each other; with open tabs, bookmarks and passwords syncing between the two platforms. Both platforms use the Linux kernel, but their kernels come from different sources. Android comes straight from the Linux project, while Chrome OS takes theirs from Ubuntu. We could see their kernel developed merged across both platforms. Plus, I am sure Google has more Android features coming to Chrome. With the recent release of the Chromebook Pixel, touch-based gestures could also be added to Chrome OS.


Chrome OS and Android 3.0 Setting Panels

In summary, I fairly pleased Android and Chrome are not merging. They are both widely different at the moment, for different use cases. Both Microsoft and Apple for many years have been supporting two operating systems for mobile and desktop, with great success. Deep integration and cross-platform syncing can be achieved for both operating systems to work seamlessly together.

  • vs8

    I don’t think Chrome OS’ kernel comes from Ubuntu anymore. I think Chrome switched to Gentoo. If I’m wrong, please correct me.

    • Sebastiaan Franken

      No you’re absolutely right. It’s built on Gentoo with portage and everything.

      • Ed Hewitt

        I got my source from here:

        When did it change to Gentoo?

        • jose Mendoza

          your souce is saying they get the “upstream mainline kernel directly” and apply what they need, where is the gentoo part of it?

        • Sebastiaan Franken

          About a year ago. They only ran on Ubuntu for a very short time. If you compile a Chrome OS image yourself you’ll see it’s Gentoo. That or they’ve mixed Ubuntu’s core with Gentoo’s packaging system and namingconventions..

  • Brian Bentsen

    I’ve used both ChromeOS (vanilla Chromium builds by hexxeh) and the Android-x86 android-for-laptops port on my laptop, and Android with mouse and keyboard does not feel awkward compared to ChromiumOS – certainly not more awkward than Windows 8 without touch screen. Doesn’t seem a challenge for Android to become a fully mouse and keyboard compatible OS as it’s already pretty much there and comes with built-in support. No major UI issues with it either. ChromeOS comes off a bit pointless to me when they could take Android and fine tune a laptop/desktop edition of it – make it as cloud based as ChromeOS if they pleased – and they’d have a much better product than ChromeOS what with the millions upon millions of Android users and developers already out there, and an instantly recognizable and already hugely successful UI and brand.

    • lukemcd

      I personally see Chrome OS picking up Dalvik and the NDK into NaCl, adding support for widgets on the desktop, and merging the two stores, notifications, and accounts (FB, etc).

  • Inquizitor

    I still don’t really understand what merging them would accomplish or even look like.

    • One OS, stretching from smartphones to laptops to TVs. Android covers all things except laptops.

      • Inquizitor

        Android can be put on a laptop already. Ever use an Asus Transformer? Works fine with mouse and keyboard. Chrome OS isn’t needed at all. That still doesn’t explain what “merging” means in any way, shape, or form.

  • Andrew Mezzi

    I’m glad that Android and Chrome aren’t merging, because that would essentially be killing Chrome. Chrome’s entire purpose is to only use web apps. If you gave it the ability to run desktop apps, it wouldn’t be Chrome anymore.

    Also, giving Chrome the ability to run desktop apps would kill it. Look at how bad most apps were for tablets when Honeycomb came out. This would be even worse, because phone apps can at least run on desktops. Imaging how bad tablet apps would be on a desktop. They use features like pinch to zoom and multitouch, which could be accomplished with the trackpad, but would be extremely awkward. All merging them would accomplish would be to give Chrome thousands of apps that don’t work on it.

    • jose Mendoza

      it doesn’t have to be that way. we can make these small devices run web apps from the native chrome client, yet still have the ability to use local apps. while allowing chrome os to sync certain things from android ie. music, photos, etc. plus allow some android apps to be run as web apps right from chrome. but the problem would be that it needs to be tied down together in a nice and neat package. no one wants to open chrome on android to play angry birds and no one on chrome wants to have an android desktop emulated on the chrome desktop so that they can play angry birds.

  • I don’t know if this is just a PR screen for Google so that they can keep driving the sales of Chromebooks or not but my Samsung 3 definitely fills a different need for me than my Nexus 7 does. I am quite content for Chrome OS and Android to remain separate for now. I can certainly understand why people would be interested in them “merging” (or more likely, Chrome OS getting incorporated into Android) but before an Android-powered laptop would turn my head it would have to incorporate all the features of a computer like my Samsung 3 and still have an efficient price. I

  • I want to see how the code is kept open copied over to Android (aka “we’ll develop in the open mostly”) but that requires rolling releases essentially… which manufacturers are barely able to keep up with as is :(

  • That would be great!

  • Charlie

    When it comes to merging the 2 operating systems together I honestly don’t think that the UI is the biggest issue right now. What’s far more important is getting everything to work under the bonnet so that both operating systems can run the same applications.

    I see no reason why things can’t stick to the way it is right now. The android phone UI can continue developing as it is, the tablet ui can progress as it is and likewise with the chromeos ui. As long as they share the same applications Im sure people wouldn’t mind a Google OS looking differently on a mobile device compared to a chromebook.

  • Lowry Brooks

    Why don’t we just kill android, and go all chrome

  • To be very honest, a WINE-like, Pepper/NaCl-based Android compatibility layer being brought to Chrome OS is really all that needs to happen for the platforms to truly “merge”… or at least it would be enough for Chrome OS and Android apps to run on the same underlying platform.