On Thursday, it was reported (initially by the Wall Street Journal) that Google plans to fold Chrome OS into its Android operating system. The goal is to create a new Android-based operating system for its present line of Chromebooks as well as for smartphones and tablets. The Chromebook line will also be renamed; its new name has yet to be announced. The new OS will be released to the public in 2017, with more news and a beta version announced next year. Supposedly, Google’s been working on this since 2013. Contrary to earlier headlines, Google claims the new OS will coexist alongside Chrome OS, but all development will be mainly on the new Android OS.
To look at the positive aspects, I can see why Google wouldn’t want to keep up two separate operating systems, especially given one has more traction than the other. Chrome OS has been adding more and more Android support for awhile. There’s also Android having a large number of apps available, especially versus Chrome OS, which some seem to value.
I also assume any existing Chrome OS devices will be updated for the new Android based OS, instead of being left as a “brick” as some have feared. Google’s sold too many Chromebooks to schools to pull a “spring cleaning” whim this time—unless they want a massive number of angry teachers/school districts vowing to never buy their services ever again.
On the downsides, I admit there’s a few things about all this that bother me:
- Chrome OS is already usable just fine as a secure, laptop-based operating system. Android is designed for tablets/smartphones, not laptops, and its security state’s, well, a mish-mash. Google first will have to clean up Android’s security and update states, presumably by folding in those aspects of Chrome OS. Google also has to make an Android OS usable as an actual laptop, not as a tablet plus a Bluetooth keyboard attached like the Pixel C. That includes at least a rudimentary file browser, plus making the OS mouse/desktop usability friendly, etc.. If all this isn’t done, I’m not sold on Android-as-a-laptop-OS, no matter how many more apps are available.
- The way this was all announced felt rather clumsy from a public relations standpoint. A Google spokesperson had to add that Chrome OS isn’t being “killed,” but just being “folded into Android”… all after various headlines started stating the former.
- The new finished OS won’t be out until 2017? That seems to slow down or kill a lot of what momentum Chromebooks/Chrome OS was building, if potential buyers will see headlines and comments online claiming “OMG RIP Chrome OS.” Also, there’s no sign until next year what the new Android-ified OS will be like. On top of all this, this news and uncertainty comes just before the start of the holiday shopping season.
- Speaking of customers, while schools buying Chromebooks won’t be left in the dust, hearing about all this might be enough to make new education customers think twice about buying into a device whose name and operating system is set to change in yet-undefined ways in two years. Plus, Chrome OS has the advantage of being easy to maintain and update; will the new Android-based OS be similar?
I guess we’ll see what happens in the long run, and I hope that this works out for Google/the Chromebook. However, I’d hate to have to add Chromebooks (or whatever their new name will be) to my old Palm Pre on the “tech that was just a dead-end” list.