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Android Has Won — Time for Chrome OS to Move Along?

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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 (s AAPL) 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

52 Responses to “Android Has Won — Time for Chrome OS to Move Along?”

  1. Om wrote: though some remain skeptical of certain initiatives, such as Google TV.

    Ironically, I remember a similar skeptical and disappointed article by Om when he realized that Android is not a single ‘Google Phone’ like the iPhone, but a platform. Wish I had time enough to search for that article and post a link here now…

    • Most commentators want a simple comparison between Apple & Google – hence many of the arguments about dropping either Android or ChromeOS.

      The strategy of Apple is different to that of Google. Apple like control & simplicity – Google prefer open & variation.

      There’s a lot for Google & the community at large to gain from the approach. They’ve not put all their eggs into one mobile basket – both teams can learn & understand what works, what users want while gathering intel (metrics).

      Apple’s current approach is successful for them but I doubt the long-term viability of keeping everything in-house.

  2. I think Ipad OS will be a part of a next version of iTunes and will become a “Trojan” for Apple in Windows garden Windows so hard to play with for you ? Stay in your iphone world at the top level in XP, Vista,Seven. Android could be used in a same way by Google inside Chrome OS

  3. Lorie Ghamy

    I think Ipad OS will be a part of a next version of iTunes and will become a “Trojan” for Apple in Windows garden…. Windows so hard to play with for you ? Stay in your iPod / iPhone / iPad world at the top level in XP, Vista,Seven…..

    So, Android could be used in a same way by Google inside Chrome OS….

  4. Brian

    I see two likely scenarios here:

    Scenario #1

    Sergey takes dog behind barn (Larry sobbing in foreground).


    Scenario #2

    Sergey takes dog behind barn (Larry sobbing in foreground).


    yelp yelp yelp!

    (shotgun jams)






  5. I like to think that these two projects have always been intended to become one. I would also posit that Chrome could with some interesting development offer what the Palm Ares platform will in future iterations — the ability to develop mobile applications in the browser.

    One platform offers the vagueness of lots of options, while the other offers a more simple approach. Somewhere in the middle lies the clarity of what Apple offers. Google needs that…

  6. OM – I am totally with you. Actually have been saying it for the past 6 r more months.
    On several threads on the jkontherun site James and Kevin have been eagerly waiting for Chrome OS – my constant comments were the same.
    Android with maybe a better UI for 7-9″ devices and a Chrome Browser (only) running apps – competing with the Firefox plugin community.
    Android won – its silly of Google not to admit it ASAP.


  7. A couple of points that haven’t been mentioned yet. Google is a big company that needs multiple, big (profitable) new product lines every year to show any real growth. They can’t be all about Android, it’s not enough. The combination of Chrome OS and Google Apps would be another interesting package for years to come.

    Regardless of what happens with Android, there are A LOT of desktop and notebook computers in the world running Windows XP and older operating systems. The vast majority of these will never be upgraded to another version of Windows. A simple Chrome OS “upgrade” would be perfect for them, and drive use of Google’s cloud-based apps.

    If I were responsible for an enterprise with thousands of Windows machines running XP today, I would be seriously looking at something like Chrome OS and Google Apps. The majority of those users don’t need Windows, or Microsoft Office to do their work. Google Apps is improving rapidly and will probably be good enough by the time Chrome OS is fully baked. That switch would extend my hardware life a few more years and give Android, cloud-based applications, tablets, and the rest of the market time to evolve before I have to make a commitment to new hardware.

  8. I’m sorry but this article was flawed from start. The very fact that Chrome OS hasn’t launched yet invalidates most of your arguments.

    Also…Chrome OS and Android are 2 totally different platforms. Chrome OS is possibly the first successful Cloud OS (the future of computing).

    I really don’t get what gave you inspiration for this article but you need to go and have a rethink.

  9. Again, I get very irritated at posts like these that are headlined to incite emotions rather than actual analysis. Android is a platform, Chrome is an engine, soon to be platform, doing amazing things with the web, such as the aforementioned link. Without Chrome, where would the flagpost be to push other browsers to increase their performance, etc?

  10. Couldn’t agree more Om. Chrome OS is an idiotic distraction. All of those engineering man years ought to be put into getting as much of Chrome (the browser) into Android and, as some commenters have said, moving away from the Market and into a truly open web app deployment strategy. This is the one thing that Palm had right (though they sadly confused a long view for a short distance in terms of what the HW could do).

    Android is solid. It is proven, and what is better yet, there is now a skillbase (both here and abroad at all of the tier 1 ODMs) around getting it up on new hardware and customizing it. Why would people want to forego this for yet another adaptation of desktop Linux running stripped down?!?

    • RixiM

      Wouldn’t this argument make more sense the other way around? Would it not be a significantly bigger waste of resources for the android development team to work on the highly experimental features of Chrome OS instead of more important things like Dalvik and the Android NDK? It seems to me that the two projects have very different engineering goals and have different histories inside the company. Consider the design goals of both Dalvik and NaCl, then consider their (best) supported platforms. I really think they are two different strategies. Also, google has the engineering capacity to spare. The waste is more in the minds of pundits than in some material loss to google. I expect that the Chrome OS brand will fall to the wayside, but why would the actually useful code go the same way?

      Keeping all that in mind, if the real argument is that the x86 port of android needs more support or that x86 does not have much of a future in the mobile space… those are perfectly reasonable arguments.

  11. Josh Quittner

    I disagree, too, Om. I had a rich uncle years ago who used to buy a $2 ticket on every race at the track. That way, when he went home, he could always show his wife that he picked 12 out of 12 winners.

    That’s Google’s strategy here.

    The whole tension in mobile right now is Web versus native apps. Google has laid down major bets on both. One might win, or both might win. But it’s way too soon to know which will prevail in the end.

    • Josh

      Good to hear from you. Long time. As for responding to your comment, Antonio below does a good job of it. I would say +1 to that.

      PS: When are you coming back to San Francisco for a visit?

  12. “* It’s on 60 devices from 21 OEM makers on 59 carriers in 48 countries.
    * In the first quarter of the year, it was the second-best selling smartphone OS after RIM’s BlackBerry.”

    Hmm… mixing your facts a bit their aren’t you, Om?

  13. Scotty

    To see why Chrome OS is part of the mix just point your Froyo equipped Nexus One at Acid 3. Point it at Robin Hood The Movie and watch it make a hash of Flash playback.

    I think you would have heard more about Chrome OS at I/O if NVIDIA wasn’t blowing so much smoke about the Tegra 2. Someone needs to sit those folks down and tell them to quit hating on everyone else and show-us-the-shipping-silicon-now.

  14. “In the first quarter of the year, it was the second-best selling smartphone OS after RIM’s BlackBerry.”

    That statement is true only if qualified with “only in the US”, which is nearly 30% of the global market. Still, all of those stats are impressive, but note they trail what the iPhone achieved at similar points in its lifecyle (except for of course, the 60 devices/21 OEM makers).

  15. Android is great for the here and now – but it’s probably not right for the future.

    You need to keep in mind that the user experience is evolving over time – from the first gen “brick” phones to the current smartphones & tablets.

    The work on ChromeOS is about anticipating one direction that users will evolve into.

    Android is great for the here and now when you work with one app at a time – but users will demand more – in terms of sharing, windowing, multi-tasking and input. Google is doing the smart thing – developing something that allows them to drop the product into the market and right when the demand is there.

  16. Umm, did you just miss the whole two hour keynote on the whole HTML5 and webapps thing?

    There is no OneRing of the internet and quit trying to say that there is. Android is a stopgap and Google said so.

    • If Android is a stop gap, well the Google leadership should really rethink their business. The company has more momentum with Android than any other product it has ever released. Chrome OS is still in the labs so to speak. The best case scenario is that Android is going to subsume the capabilities of Chrome OS (browser) and move on from there.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. Anonymous

    “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?

      • James

        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.

  21. Tim F.

    “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.

    • 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.

      • Nicholas Chase

        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?

    • Tim F.

      I have looked into Jolicloud and don’t find it very compelling. However, you haven’t addressed how the hooks into Google apps is different 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 address… So how is ChromeOS a worse offender than the current, front-running mobile OSes?

  22. Tim F.

    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.

  23. Hamranhansenhansen

    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.

    • pfmiller

      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.

    • Simon Broenner

      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… :)

    • “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

  24. 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!

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.