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Summary:

Google dominated the technology conversation last week with its annual developer conference, Google I/O, the focus of the which was the Android OS and the mobile ecosystem it’s spawned. Chrome, meanwhile, appeared to have become little more than an afterthought for the company.

Google with its annual developer conference, Google I/O, dominated the technology conversation last week. Whether it was taking jabs at Apple, launching a competitor to H.264 video technology or simply offering its own version of Amazon S3, the Big G didn’t disappoint its fans (though some remain skeptical of certain initiatives, such as Google TV).

All that hoopla aside, the focus of the conference was Google’s Android OS and the mobile ecosystem it’s spawned. Add Google TV to the mix and it’s safe to say that Google devoted nearly a quarter of its stage and talk time to Android. CEO Eric Schmidt, VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra and the co-founder of the Android movement himself, Andy Rubin — all waxed eloquent about the OS. Chrome, meanwhile, appeared to have become little more than an afterthought for the company.

Android’s Adaptability

Yes Google held a press conference where co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin talked up the Chrome Web Store, but that was pretty much it. That’s because while Chrome is still waiting for its day in the sun, Android has taken on a life of its own. By the time the Chrome OS becomes available via devices on store shelves, who knows where Android will be.

Just look at some of the most recent Android-specific stats:

  • 100,000 Android-based phones are activated every day.
  • It’s on 60 devices from 21 OEM makers on 59 carriers in 48 countries.
  • There are 50,000 apps in the Android Market Place.
  • In the first quarter of the year, it was the second-best selling smartphone OS after RIM’s BlackBerry in the U.S.

“I am delighted to see Android in places I didn’t expect to see it in,” Rubin said at Google I/O. A good example is Google TV — which is comprised of Android running off an Intel x86 processor with a browser on top of it. Indeed, as I wrote at the time of Android’s launch, what makes it special is its adaptability. From e-readers to set-top boxes to cars to even refrigerators, the OS has shown tremendous adaptability. By offering it for free (with some strings attached), Google has made it possible for all sorts of hardware makers to tinker with it.

And as such it makes perfect sense for Google to marshal all its resources behind Android the way Apple has done with the iPhone OS. But what of Chrome?

Chrome’s Tablet Future?

“Android has evolved over the past four years and Chrome OS hasn’t launched just yet, so it’s an unfair comparison,” Rubin said in response to a question at last week’s conference in which he was asked to do just that. I took his comment to mean that Google was purposefully following a dual strategy, and when I asked why, Gundotra candidly admitted it’s a strategy the company may adjust down the road — specifically, that there may be a way for the two technologies to converge.

Now that would make sense in a touch-centric, tablet-based world. Imagine Android running the Chrome browser in order to offer a panoply of web apps via the web-based app store that co-founder Sergey Brin described at Google I/O. Though when veteran scribe Dan Gillmor asked about an Android Tablet, both Rubin and Gundotra dodged the question.

Our own Kevin Tofel thinks one of the reasons Chrome OS is taking a back seat to Android may be hardware-related. After all, Chrome OS was initially introduced as a platform for the netbook form factor, but if the market is shifting to tablets, Google will have to make some significant changes to it in order to make it finger-friendly.

Folks in the know tell me that Google bought Canadian user interface innovator BumpTop so that it can build a unique user interface on top of Android for Google’s GPad, which could offered to hardware makers as reference design. That could be just what Android needs in order to compete with Apple and its iPad in the tablet space.

I’ve long been wary of Chrome OS because I think it would suffer from Google-itis in that its underpinning would be the company’s identification system and would always prefer Google web apps. And given that Google doesn’t have a presence in the social web, it would lack social sense and sensibility.

For comparison, look at the JoliCloud OS, which is completely socially aware and uses Facebook Connect as a way to bridge various components with a user’s social graph. That’s what a modern OS for cloud clients should look like.

Now don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to hate on Chrome OS. I just think Google needs to pick a winning horse. And the winner here is clearly Android.

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com

  1. I personally don’t see that the two operating systems are mutually exclusive – Android is optimised for devices, touch screens, ARM processors, etc. and while its browser is very capable, it’s not Chrome.

    For a larger/more powerful x86 device I want a more capable browser and more advanced input devices (keyboard, mouse, etc). I also want to be able to run “real” applications like Photoshop (even in the browser).

    I think Android and Chrome[OS] complement each other in the same way that iPhone OS and Mac OS serve different needs; you don’t see anyone pushing Apple to deploy iPhone OS on Mac[Book] Pros now, do you!

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    1. Sam I think the point is that they have to adopt a single platform. My view is that why not marry the best of both worlds. Android with Chrome’s Browser running on it and then offering the web-store apps.

      Look at the traction on Android. Apparently many chinese companies are building $100 Tablets/Pads based on Android. That is only going to give Android more momentum and I think it is time for Google to just go for the jugular.

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      1. by this you are assuming the main purpose of Chrome OS is to run Web Apps.

        There is a lot more to Chrome OS than that. how about the 8 second boot time? Boot straight into the browser? How about security (e.g. from viruses) e.t.c.

        you really haven’t considered this in your article. Many people may enjoy an Android tablet…but guess what, some many want a Chrome OS tablet solely for their web activity.

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    2. OM, I have to agree with Sam here. The two could coexist. Android is more like an open version of iPhone OS. Chrome OS on the other hand could become in the furure an open version of Mac OSX, or simply Windows. Now about marrying the best of both world, I think Android is not a desktop/laptop OS. Chrome could become one. Netbook is just a start… tomorrow you could see it on bigger machines.

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  2. Hamranhansenhansen Monday, May 24, 2010

    This tracks with the demise of the mouse. If Chrome OS is a “Web OS” then it should be touch. Touch is just too good for the Web. Since I got an iPad, I can’t bear to browse the Web on my Mac and it is just for productivity apps now, like Photoshop and Logic Pro. The Web is all buttons, scrolling, and zooming. All of which are accomplished better with touch, especially buttons.

    Still, the main problem I see with Android and Chrome OS is that the C API is closed on both of them, totally off-limits to 3rd party developers. Sort of ironic that they bash iPhone OS for having a managed C API when Google’s is 100% closed. Java applets and Flash applets are not competitive with iPhone OS. Developers can’t readily port their iPhone apps to Android. And on a tablet especially, you want full-sized PC or console game apps to be ported over, and they’re all written in C.

    So they should combine Chrome OS and Android and open up the C API if they want to compete.

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    1. Hamranhansenhansen, I can’t speak for Chrome OS but I know that Android certainly does support c development. The NDK that is used for this has been available since 1.6, maybe even longer. The availability of the NDK is why 3rd party apps such as the mobile Firefox browser are possible on Android.

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    2. Simon Broenner Monday, May 24, 2010

      To be honest, I don’t see the point in having Chrome OS in addition to Android. Might be better to just focus on making Android more viable for use in a netbook and/or iPad-size-tablet form factor.

      That means USB host functionality, a consolidated Android baseline via mandatory support for at least 5 years after the product launch from any vendor using Android, and decent keyboard + mouse support.

      Touch may be all the rage these days, but to me, content consumption is easier, faster and much more efficient with my hands on a keyboard and a decent trackpoint… :)

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    3. The NDK for android is for developing native C/C++ apps for the OS.
      The reason you don’t know about it is because the SDK is good enough and none needs the NDK.
      take a look:
      http://developer.android.com/sdk/ndk/index.html#overview

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    4. “Developers can’t readily port their iPhone apps to Android”

      That’s why we see games companies (such as Gameloft and EA) starting to port their iPhone apps (with just minor OS related modifications)… There’s a C devkit in Android you know

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    5. As has been mentioned, Android has the NDK for C/C++.

      Chrome and Chrome OS will have Native Client (NaCl) built-in for native code, from day one.

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  3. I think it gets a little more interesting than that. At some point, to truly achieve its goal, Google may have to try to kill the Android app marketplace in order to foster web apps. I also think Google (wisely) observed that the Apple iPad without Flash was a far more successful driver of HTML5 adoption than a relatively limited ChromeOS on cheap netbooks, which allowed them to change course and support Flash for the boost to Android. Ultimately, they will need to turn to killing off Flash as well (easier since its not their product, but not easy because of the hypocrisy).

    Maybe Google will come to completely dominate mobile app advertising (fairly likely) and find ways to fully index and exploit the data of all mobile apps (far less likely), but at present, their current mobile success stands in the way of their long term goals.

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  4. “I’ve long been wary of Chrome OS because I think it would suffer from Google-itis in that its underpinning would be the company’s identification system and would always prefer Google web apps. And given that Google doesn’t have a presence in the social web, it would lack social sense and sensibility.”

    I do not understand this fear. It would be the web — any good web app would be just as accessible. Sure, it may not favor Facebook and have FB hooks throughout, but how is that any different than Android and iPhone favoring Google and Apple apps, respectively, now? Certainly someone could modify it to have social hooks and if that proved a competitive advantage, than Google would be forced to follow suit.

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    1. Tim

      Google talks about Open a lot and one of the thing they need to do is ensure that Chrome works with all sorts of web services and not just their own.

      What if I don’t want to login using Google or Gmail and use Hotmail or Facebook? Will they support that. If you really looking for a good WebOS, try Jolicloud. and then you will see what I mean by a neutral OS.

      Anyway thanks for the back-and-forth.

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      1. Nicholas Chase Tuesday, May 25, 2010

        Hexxeh’s Chromium OS does not make you log in with a google account. Dunno what Google has planned in that department but I know android uses a google account heavily. Haven’t tried jolicloud yyet so I can’t comment.
        I will say the only time I’m not using Chromium OS on my netbook is when I watch Netflix, which is not yet GNU/Linux compatible sadly. And with widespread adoption they would have to support Chromium OS. I’m not following you on the idea that Chrome won’t support all web apps. The point of web apps is that they are completely platform nuetral, right? Am I missing something?

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    2. I have looked into Jolicloud and don’t find it very compelling. However, you haven’t addressed how the hooks into Google apps is differenthttp://gigaom.com/2010/05/24/android-vs-chrome-os/ from the current landscape of mobile OSes. iPhone requires iTunes and an iTunes account, Android requires a Google account for syncing and Google Checkout for paid apps, WinMo 7 will require a live.com address… So how is ChromeOS a worse offender than the current, front-running mobile OSes?

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      1. Where’d that link come from?

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  5. Chrome OS has a feature that no other OS has.

    No Apps!

    Thats a big enterprise feature.

    Look for Google to push ChromeOS along with their cloud offering.

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    1. So you mean to say a Chrome browser running on Android won’t be able to work those “web apps”? Is that a point you are trying to make.

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      1. I think he means that the only native app on Chrome OS is the browser, the lack of other native apps being a ‘feature’ that certain enterprise customers would want. The browser would support web apps, obviously, or else why would Google push it “along with their could offering?” If, for example, a company deployed tablets to their employees solely for connecting them to the company’s Google Apps account, they probably wouldn’t want their employees installing apps on the tablet that aren’t work-related. At such a short-sighted company a Chrome OS tablet would be preferred over an iPad.

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  6. @Tim
    “And given that Google doesn’t have a presence in the social web, it would lack social sense and sensibility.”

    Ever heard of those 100mio users at orkut?

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  7. I am pretty sure chrome OS is more of a technical project for google than a commericial one. If google manage to develop a fully working cloud OS they will have solved a lot of issues that tie people to the desktop.

    They will then use those new technologies to encourage people to give up on windows/office etc and use google search, apps, android. Afterall they are giving both away for free so its not like they are losing os sales if everyone uses google apps but not chrome os.

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  8. @Hamranhansenhansen:

    The C API is already available on Android.

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  9. Frankly, I couldn’t disagree more.

    The future belongs to Chrome OS. Today, there is no reason to distribute downloaded copies of applications to many clients like traditional computers or Android devices do it. It makes the process of connecting those copies to one another (for collaboration) or updating the software painful and complicated. The idea of thin clients has been around for a long time and is appealing because it takes a lot of overhead out of the software industry.

    Google mentioned at IO how every significant piece of software that has been newly released since 2005 was SaaS. IMHO one of the real killer announcements of of IO was the Chrome Webstore. Whoever figures out how to monetize webapps wins big. Apple currently doesn’t intend to do so and it is one of their biggest blind spots. Most apps in the App Store can be rebuilt using HTML 5. Google can use this to their advantage.

    As far as Jolicloud goes, I was sort-of assuming Google would acquire them anyway. IIRC, one of the IO afterparties was hosted by Jolicloud, too.

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  10. I think it’s just a bit too early for Chrome OS. It will come, either in merging with Android or as a stand-alone OS, but I think we’ll have to wait a bit for it.

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