Skip to main content

Why Chrome And Android Are Incomplete

Yet I was surprised that a key problem is still not addressed.

I could not help but compare Microsoft's Mango Windows Phone 7 update and the rumors of a few new features with Google's promised Android update. I won't go into detail about those, since you already know everything about ADK, Android @ Home, Android 3.1, Ice Cream Sandwich and Market updates, if you are interested in this topic. There were some maintenance updates and fixes for some hiccups, but ADK and Android @ Home are the big news items and represent huge bets that Android can expand beyond mobile computing devices and basically invade every electronic device in your home.

We have seen those ideas in the past, but they never got any traction as they were limited in their functionality and reach. Android has a tremendous user base that is now apparently growing by 400,000 devices every day and it is a natural though to expand the platform. Google wants Android to be the Os of your household and, in a larger sense, the OS of your everyday life.

On the other side, Google is developing another OS, which slowly emerges from its Chrome browser (at some point, I would actually believe that Google will drop the "OS" and call both the browser and OS simply Chrome.) We are now getting the first commercial Chromebooks, the Chrome Box as a software/hardware management device, different availability programs as well as a greater focus on applications. And if we look a bit closer, apps are critical to the success of both Chrome and Android.

Separate ways

Since Chrome OS was released as a beta software, there have always been those who claimed that there is no room for Chrome OS and Google should just merge it into Android. Today we know that Android and Chrome OS are pitched as two very different products - one for mobile devices as well as household products with a touch UI and the other as a PC OS for devices with a keyboard, even if I am scratching our head over the fact why Chrome needs a touch UI that is pushed so hard by Google.

Google grows two increasingly complex operating system trees that are kept separate and it appears that Google does everything it can do to keep it that way. There is only a loose connection between Android and Chrome OS via specific apps - its own Docs, Mail and Calendar apps, as well as some third party apps that are available on both platforms. Examples are, for example, Dropbox or Evernote. Google's approach is very different from the unified platform approach that Apple follows.


Google's value is in its core product: search. The company has done a stunning job building apps around the information it stores on its servers for Android. Maps, Skymap, voice integration and Goggles are just a few examples. I still believe that much of Android's success is based on unique applications that have enough appeal so people go and buy those devices. Apps will drive Android in the future as well as the software expands into the home. However, they may not be enough anymore to keep momentum and push Android fast enough. I am wondering whether Google can afford to keep Chrome OS and Android separate or whether it should be thinking about much greater synergies, especially since we are talking about cloud services. What if there was a Chrome browser for Android (which strangely does not exist?) and future apps would be entirely be built on top of HTML5 technologies? What if there was a software bridge that would allow you to use those apps that are installed on a Chromebook on your tablet or smartphone? What if cloud computing would not just apply to data but to such a software and application bridge?

Apple has that bridge - it's called iOS and there are signs that Apple may be thinking about bridging the gap to Mac OS X as well. The result is a much more valuable and less complex user experience and I am convinced that this is the way to go. For Google, that bridge is missing - given the effort to build two cloud computing platforms from scratch, it is somewhat surprising that this bridge does not exist at this time, which makes Android and Chrome OS incomplete at this time.

Google's ADK and @Home idea could benefit very much from a bridge to chrome - and you could control your air conditioner, access light controls, or your treadmill not just via a phone, but via Chrome OS as well. Certainly not necessary, but surely a compelling feature that would be appreciated by users. This goes the other way, of course as well: If your phone/tablet could access your Chrome OS apps, your browsing history (there are third-party apps for that), or any document, how much easier could this make your life? You shouldn’t have to worry what device you use in the cloud computing age - especially if we are now having dual-core smartphones and highly-capable tablets - yet it seems that the barrier of application transparency will once again be the OS platform.

The bottom line? As ambitious as Google is with its new ideas, the platform synergy just isn't there yet. Android and Chrome OS will need each other to compete with Apple. If they are in sync, and the user does not have to care anymore what operating system is installed and when all computing features simply revolve about data, we may truly be able to grasp the benefits of cloud computing, at least as long as we do not forget that our data should be reasonably protected.

The same goes, of course, for Microsoft. The idea of having a separate Phone OS appears to be old. Windows 8 for ARM is a step in a unified OS platform direction , which Google will need to take serious. A tablet that can connect to a smartphone and a PC instantly has much greater value than two separate devices that  require a user to figure out how data (and apps) move from one device to the next. It is easier to justify $400-$500 for a Chromebook that is closely tight to an Android smartphone than justifying it for what is a standalone device when it debuts. It would be silly not to take advantage of the entire ecosystem of Chrome and Android users that already exist.