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What to expect from the "convergence" of Android and Chrome OS

Posted: , by Michael H.

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This was one of the more interesting pieces of news that came across the newswire today, not only because the idea that Android and Chrome OS might converge was an interesting idea, but because we here at PhoneArena had been discussing the possibility just this past weekend. Given the planned convergence of Ubuntu and Android, and the convergence of Windows 8 and Windows Phone, it seemed likely that Google would try to find its own path, and Chrome OS is the closest Google has to a desktop operating system, so it's the logical choice. 

First things first, the story came out today that Google's VP of engineering, Linus Upson, told TechRadar that while Google is not working on a Chrome OS tablet, there are plans to slowly converge Chrome OS with Android. This matches Google's constant assertions that Android is for touch devices and Chrome OS is for devices with keyboards. Of course, more and more Android tablets are coming with keyboard docks, so the opportunity is certainly there to allow for some sort of convergence between the systems. As Upson points out, each major platform has different operating systems for mobile and desktop environments: Apple has iOS and MacOS, Microsoft has Windows and Windows Phone, and now Google has Android and Chrome OS. 

The value in Chrome OS

Granted, Chrome OS hasn't seen much adoption yet, but the platform is more of a long-term investment than anything else. Living completely in the cloud is something that many consumers are still wary about. Not to mention, the Chrome OS software has been relatively young, unpolished, and flat out incomplete until just recently, and the Chrome OS hardware is still a bit overpriced, and scarce. Samsung just released its new Series 5 Chromebook, which is running the latest version of Chrome OS, codenamed Aura. Early reviews say that the hardware is nice, and the software is finally feeling like a real operating system with options for windowing, a desktop environment to complement the browser environment, and of course the launch of Google Drive allows for far better offline capabilities. Unfortunately, the Chromebook, which isn't a powerhouse although it runs what it needs to well, costs $500, which is more than most are willing to spend on a computer that runs nothing more than a souped-up browser. 

Still, Chrome OS does have a target audience that could benefit greatly from its design. The magic sauce of Chrome OS is in the fact that it is just a browser, meaning updates are constant and automatic, something Android users envy at times. And, because it is just a browser, any web app written in HTML5, or built in Flash works perfectly on Chrome OS. There's no need for a new SDK, programming language, etc. Sure, there are a couple of Chrome specific options for developers, but in general, if you can build for the web, you can build for Chrome OS, and anything you build will also work in other HTML5 capable browsers. And, since the Chrome browser has recently become the most popular in the world, a lot of people are also building extensions for the browser itself, adding to the functionality. 

And, the thing is that the vast majority of users already live inside their browser. Sure, Chrome OS can't do hardcore video, audio, or photo editing, but most people don't need to do any of that, and the casual options for video and photo editing that can be done either in YouTube or with web apps like Aviary or Google's editing tools (formerly Picnik) are good enough. And, that's really the point of Chrome OS, if you need the extra power, it isn't the option for you, but if what you need is "good enough", it could be a great option, if the price for hardware can come down. Add in the auto-updating, and it could be a great option for schools and businesses, as well as casual users. 

Convergence

That brings us to the real issue: how exactly would the "convergence" of Android and Chrome OS work? Upson didn't give any real indication of what the plans would be, and in general, unless we heard it from Chrome VP Sundar Pichai, we're not even sure that work has begun in earnest on this project. We have heard other rumors that Android Jelly Bean would be a dual-boot system with the option to choose either Android or Chrome OS, but there has been no confirmation of that at all. Even so, this isn't exactly what we would point to as a sign of "convergence".

In our estimation, this "convergence" will be more to do with functionality moving from Chrome OS to Android rather than the other way around. Now that Chrome Beta is available for Android 4.0 devices, it's expected that functionality for the browser will continue to grow, meaning compatibility with extensions, and a start screen more like that of the desktop version with links to web apps. There is already syncing of bookmarks and tabs between all variants of Chrome, but the key here is that Chrome Beta is not Android, it is merely an Android app. 

The difficult thing is in finding what exactly could converge between Android and Chrome OS. It's possible that the stock Android browser would get options to sync Chrome bookmarks, or that Chrome will become the default Android browser in future versions of the OS. This seems to offer the best path for convergence. If Chrome becomes the default Android browser, it would allow for more interesting options like adding Chrome web apps. The key seems to be with convertible tablets, which would be able to leverage a keyboard add-on and make the most of web apps in a way that touchscreens can't.

Going the other way is also a very tough proposition. As we mentioned, the key to Chrome OS is the automatic updates of the system, which is something that Android has struggled with. Granted, Chrome OS is 100% managed by Google, meaning there would be no manufacturer or carrier delays in updates, so it's fair to assume that the auto-updates may not be put in jeopardy with a convergence with Android. But, the only real convergence we could imagine going to Chrome OS would be in an added option to run Android apps. 

The trouble here is that adding Android apps to Chrome OS doesn't make a whole lot of sense in many respects. Firstly, the addition of Android apps would de-emphasize the entire point of Chrome OS, which is in the power of the web. There's no reason to go to the ESPN website, or Twitter if there are apps that are easier and offer more functionality. There is a lot of value that could be added by offering apps like Skype, which is currently unavailable in any form for Chrome OS. Additionally, the abundance of games available for Android would be a huge benefit to Chrome OS where the availability of higher quality games is a bit scarce. 

Of course, if that happens we would likely see the Chrome Store be folded into Google Play (which seems inevitable anyway), and maybe that's really the convergence that Upson is talking about. Google wants to be able to monetize the web in more ways than just ads, and web developers want to be able to monetize in different ways as well. There are already plenty of freemium games for Chrome, but having a unified payment system could go a long way to adding a viable paid market to web apps. The trouble there is that it would break the "power of the web" that Google loves so much, because buying an app via the Chrome Store could mean that the app would no longer be available to you in Firefox, which is not a very "open" way to go. 

Conclusion

This is why we're thinking that the "convergence" will be more along the lines of integrating Chrome features into Android, and maybe even setting up the dual-boot environment that has been rumored, because any time you follow the logical line in adding an Android feature to Chrome OS, there are huge problems that pop up. Huge problems that essentially end up negating the need for Chrome OS all-together. If Google wants an always-updated system on hardware with a keyboard, Chrome is that solution. If Google wants Android to be a desktop OS, that possibility does exist, but it doesn't play well with Chrome OS, especially if Chrome OS is supposed to be leveraging the power of the free and open web. 

source: TechRadar

28 Comments
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posted on 30 May 2012, 16:21 4

1. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


interesting bit to chew on. good stuff. :)

Anyways, the bit about buying apps/games for chrome through a "store" be it Play or Chrome's own, unless its an android native app running inside chrome, i dont see why it couldnt be played on other browsers. Who's to say that they wouldnt make HTML5 paid apps available in the store? It could serve as a centralized net/app location as well as android/chrome's store. Unless they implement some type of "chrome only" lockdown on those HTML5 apps, it should be compatible with every browser. That would keep things "open" as well as give a lot of free advertisement to people about Android's latest apps which might just spur a mobile sale.
It would be very similar to how MS is going to use W8 on everything to get people used to the system to spur future sales.

It would be a smart move at least, IMO. :)

posted on 30 May 2012, 16:32 3

2. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2647; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I suppose as long as the web app is tied to your Google account, the browser wouldn't matter, you'd just need to be signed in to Google. It's still an odd area to consider, especially if Chrome is folded into Play.

posted on 30 May 2012, 16:35 3

3. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


The whole idea is kind of wierd to me from start to finish. I'm probably missing something, but I dont see a whole lot of benefit of merging chrome into android, for the android side. There is a ton of benefit for Chrome if they can figure out app compatibility, but like you mentioned, that would muddy the whole reason for Chrome to begin with.

If they allowed unlocked HTML5 apps into the Play market. You could get em from any browser and use them. Just being in there is free advertising for the Android platform.

posted on 30 May 2012, 17:09

9. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2647; Member since: 26 May 2011)


If the plan is to kill Chrome OS, then convergence makes sense. Otherwise, I'm not sure

posted on 30 May 2012, 18:21 1

16. DWillyEfect (Posts: 52; Member since: 15 Feb 2012)


Seems like it would work good for a Tablet that docks into a keyboard like the ASUS Transformer Prime.

But honestly, they need to build Chrome OS into a legitimate desktop OS that can compete with Windows.

posted on 31 May 2012, 19:58 1

28. Non_Sequitur (Posts: 1111; Member since: 16 Mar 2012)


I agree. I really think that Chromebooks are a terrible idea... They probably won't sell well. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. I don't normally criticize Google, as they usually make the right decision. I don't know about this one.
Google really needs to make full 13, 15, and 17 inch Android keyboard/touchscreen hybrid laptops and drop Chrome OS altogether. They need to team up with Adobe and many other companies and make better programs for Android, like a full Adobe suite for Android laptops.
Or, they can build a desktop OS. Lol. :P

posted on 30 May 2012, 21:15

18. adminhill (Posts: 1; Member since: 30 May 2012)


Do every know the xiaomi phone ? If I come in the not right place ?

posted on 30 May 2012, 16:42 1

4. darac (Posts: 2156; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


We've been guessing about this convergence long ago.
Ubuntu+Android still looks like the best blend by far, imo.
Could Google possibly acquire Ubuntu? :p

posted on 30 May 2012, 17:10 1

10. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2647; Member since: 26 May 2011)


That is secretly my hope, because I love the idea of Ubuntu for Android.

posted on 30 May 2012, 16:48 1

5. downphoenix (Posts: 2266; Member since: 19 Jun 2010)


"There's no reason to go to the ESPN website, or Twitter if there are apps that are easier and offer more functionality."

Rarely, if ever, has there been a case when a mobile app offers more functionality than a website, even a mobile website.

posted on 30 May 2012, 17:08

8. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2647; Member since: 26 May 2011)


That is mostly true. Twitter could be the exception that proves the rule. Almost every Twitter app is better than the website. It still muddies the water, because people are lazy. That's why Apple had to create an app store rather than just offering the web apps as intended with the iPhone.

posted on 30 May 2012, 16:55

6. Captain_Doug (Posts: 746; Member since: 10 Feb 2012)


I feel like chrome OS was the wrong way to go. I think that if they made android more desktop-like, it would have way more functionality and still be familiar to those who've used android. It would perform much more like a desktop operating system and therefore could be the only OS you had to use. Gaming on Android would pickup, other applications that were mentioned like video editing would be possible, and the cloud aspects would still be a huge part of the OS as its 4" counterpart could be perfectly synced. This seems like the perfect way to go. Like, I'm dreaming about it now. Wow that'd be awesome.

posted on 30 May 2012, 16:58

7. Captain_Doug (Posts: 746; Member since: 10 Feb 2012)


Thinking about it more it would behave a lot more like the Apple ecosystem... but open and therefore would explode as it reached the desktop platform. Still can't think of how it could get any better.

posted on 30 May 2012, 17:12 2

11. Mxyzptlk (Posts: 3213; Member since: 21 Apr 2012)


This article is missing one thing - one of the 3 B's. Be brief. We don't need a long, drawn out article on the issue. Just get to the point.

I think it's misleading to call a browser an OS. I wouldn't use Chrome if they paid me to, but it's nice it gets automatic updates. That's something Android desperately needs plus a lot of other things.

I think Google is overextending their offerings here. They should focus on a few things and improve the quality of those things. They surely need the quality part down.

posted on 30 May 2012, 17:26 3

12. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2647; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I've used Chrome OS, and it's actually a very usable system. I wouldn't be able to make it my primary OS because I need more complex tools, but for my less tech savvy friends and family, it's actually a really good option. My mother-in-law loves her Chromebook and has had very little problem learning to use it.

Chrome is as much an OS as anything. It is a platform that can do anything that 90% of users may need. Just because it wouldn't work for you doesn't mean it has no value.

posted on 30 May 2012, 23:02

21. Mxyzptlk (Posts: 3213; Member since: 21 Apr 2012)


Chrome is a very usable browser. Usable and good are not the same here. Google's problem is having quantity over quality and it shows a lot with Android sometimes.

I think they should just improve Chrome as a browser before even thinking about turning it into an OS or browser. Actually I think even Google doesn't know what Chrome is now.

posted on 30 May 2012, 23:37

22. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2647; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Chrome is the best browser available in my opinion. Opera and Firefox are great, but don't have the extensions that I love with Chrome. It hasn't become a fully realized operating system yet, but I think the idea is sound, and the potential is definitely coming through.

Your quantity vs quality argument makes no sense here. For Android, sure I can see that, but with Chrome it makes no sense.

Just think about it, how much stuff do you do on your computer that requires you to be outside of your browser? Unless your job has proprietary apps, or you do hardcore gaming or editing, there probably is almost nothing that requires you to be outside of your browser. That's the point.

It's like a tablet. It's not a 100% replacement for a computer, but it can do most of the important stuff that people need. The same holds with Chrome OS, the only major issue is the cost of the hardware. The idea of the OS is still sound.

posted on 31 May 2012, 07:12

25. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


Its not just your opinion, its the world's opinion. Chrome is now the number 1 browser in the world. :)

There is actually very little I do outside the browser anymore, except for playing Diablo3 and some rooting apps at the current moment. Google docs can do most of the basic Office stuff well (it doesnt replace it for advanced features though).

posted on 30 May 2012, 17:44 5

14. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2647; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Oh, and as far as the "be brief" bit. Because we're a mobile tech website, I didn't want to assume knowledge of Chrome OS from the readership, since it's not a very widespread OS. I know that anyone commenting will have an understanding of it all, but you guys aren't the only readers here.

posted on 30 May 2012, 23:00

20. Mxyzptlk (Posts: 3213; Member since: 21 Apr 2012)


If they're readers of PA, chances are they would have a decent grasp on Chrome OS. What I am getting at though is you need to make the article more reader friendly. Hit the main points and get to the point. You don't have to be overly detailed to give readers an idea of what Chrome OS is.

It's not about being the only readers. It's about common sense.

posted on 30 May 2012, 23:39

23. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2647; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Makes sense. I have been trying to be more concise with my articles, maybe this one got away from me a bit.

posted on 31 May 2012, 07:14

26. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


the article was fine in length.

if you assume your readers all have knowledge, then you will find that many of your readers were confused by the lack of information in the article.

If you dont like longer articles, apply for a PA job, and start writing short feature articles, and we will judge them side by side with michael's.

posted on 21 Nov 2012, 19:54

30. MAP2010 (Posts: 2; Member since: 21 Nov 2012)


I think the article was fine, I myself enjoy reading detailed post even if I know a lot about it the topic. But then again I Love Tech stuff. My understanding of Tech is years ahead of most people, in 2003 I said if you ever want to see a Truly Powerful Smart Phone that would outlast anything you have now would be if Apple designed and Made their own Smart Phone and they did but they don't play well with other Companies and cost way to much so Android filled that needed area. But that's just one of many thing I knew was going to happen before it was talked about. But even tro I know most of this very well I still enjoy reading what others say about it.

posted on 30 May 2012, 17:35 2

13. jeetster (Posts: 14; Member since: 12 Dec 2011)


I think jellybean will be more of a dock os meaning when you insert a phone such as some of moto phones into docks, what os boots up. This would be the next logical step from phone/tablet os combination. Just my $.02

posted on 30 May 2012, 17:44

15. blinkdagger (Posts: 81; Member since: 04 May 2012)


Apple already set the closed-ecosystem trend.
Microsoft just starting with the trend. wp8+windows8
and Google seems to have a thought on joining the trend.

Nah, maybe i'm just imagine things. I want bedtime story!

posted on 30 May 2012, 18:49

17. ZEUS.the.thunder.god (unregistered)


good article but i personally dont see this happening anytime soon. so lets wait and watch. and i think android has the potential to be a desktop os.

posted on 31 May 2012, 14:29

27. blade (Posts: 32; Member since: 28 May 2012)


no this shouldnt happen
also jelly bean as a minpr update as froyo and gb is agreat move

posted on 21 Nov 2012, 19:21

29. MAP2010 (Posts: 2; Member since: 21 Nov 2012)


I think we might see Android Cloud Apps and Non-Android Cloud Apps.
Its kind of hard to put it in words but I will try, Android Cloud Apps mean: Your Device would have a mini App that can do Basic stuff but once you turn on the internet you have full access to The Full App this keeps your Device Free and Clean. Non-Cloud Apps would still work with The Cloud but be Full Apps on The Device. So An Android Feel over Cloud Chrome OS. Note: (Cloud) Apps "Main Storage" (Device) Icon and Basic App when offline, but when you are online your able to use full App as if it Unlocks The Real Apps Power. Kind of like Go to my PC but it would be more like Go to my Chrome.

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