When Sundar Pichai, then Google SVP for Chrome and Apps, took over Android in March of this year, many — included myself — figured Chrome and Android would merge in some fashion. That’s exactly what’s taking place, but not in the way most expected. Google is providing a merger of experiences and services between the two.
The Chromecast, a $35 HDMI dongle that Google introduced on Wednesday, is a prime example. The small device plugs into a the HDMI port of a television and runs a stripped down version of Google’s Chrome OS platform. Using an updated YouTube, Netflix or Google Play Android app on a smartphone or tablet, content is wireless streamed to the HDTV. Chromecast also works directly with the Chrome browser on Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as with certain new iOS applications written by Google.
By linking the two platforms through a common experience, Google actually improves the experience using both Chrome and Android users. And the strategy fits with Google’s overall theme of increasing user engagement in its ecosystem with Chrome as the underlying platform.
I explained this in May, but I was a little short-sighted: I figured Google would boost engagement via Chrome on desktops with web apps and package apps. not on media-sharing Chrome devices such as the Chromecast:
“…if you’re a Chrome user today, you’ll be more immersed in the Chrome ecosystem a year from now, even if you don’t have an “official” Chromebook. This all depends on how well Google pulls off its strategy to upend the desktop computing world, but so far, it seems to be on track.
Bear in mind the apps in this vision will be truly cross-platform as they’ll run on any Windows, Mac or Linux computer with Chrome installed. If it can get developers on board — and those I spoke with at Google I/O are ready to embrace the effort — Google will have a thriving desktop platform built on top of the platforms created by others. But it will be a desktop that’s far more agile, with new features added within days or weeks, not months or years.”
I didn’t see how Chrome and Android fit together in this overall vision then, but we got a glimpse of it at Google I/O, when Google “updated” Android without releasing a new version of the software. Improved web services — think Google Play Games and cloud notifications for Chrome and Android apps — brought the two platforms more in sync with each other. And now the Chromecast continues the trend.
Would I still like to see Android apps on my Chromebook Pixel with touchscreen? Sure, I’d love it. But that’s not really a merger after all: Tying Chrome and Android together through back-end services keeps the two platforms complementary and strong on their own, but stronger still when working as one.