Earlier this month, I wrote how Mozilla’s Firefox mobile OS was the future of mobile apps. Why? I believe that the browser will be the operating system for future mobile devices. In fact, Google’s announcement that Chrome OS chief, Sundar Pichai, is taking over responsibility for Android reinforces my thinking.
While former Google CEO Eric Schmidt tried to deny the merging of the operating systems in a recent interview, the fact that the other two major OS vendors are consolidating their efforts provides a strong signal. As pointed out in a Gizmodo article commenting on Google’s changes, both Apple and Microsoft have been working at merging their mobile and desktop operating systems into one. It’s only natural that Google would start moving in the same direction, and what better way to do it than to have both teams report to the same person?
There’s also a strong motivation to merge the two efforts. Maintaining and managing two separate operating systems is inefficient (and hard). Google has exhibited through its spring cleaning efforts that it is not afraid to make tough decisions to reduce costs and inefficiencies. A merger of Chrome and Android, at least from the outside, seems like it would be a slam dunk. In my mind, it would be as simple as encapsulating Android within Chrome and providing a method to install and run Android apps. It may not be the best way, but it could be a simple way to get started while a better and/or more robust solution is developed.
So is this the beginning of the end for Android? I don’t think so – it will survive. Google will somehow fold Android, or Android capabilities, into Chrome OS, but Android will continue to be available on a standalone basis. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google were to step aside as the leader of Android and leave it for the open source community to take over. In this way, manufacturers could continue to use the Android operating system, continue to evolve and grow it with the help of the open source community, and even fold it into their own browser-based operating systems.
When looked at in this context, Eric Schmidt is right on with his comments. Android and Chrome OS will continue to stay separate for a long time. However, he doesn’t say that Chrome will not take on features of Android or allow Android apps to run inside of it, something that people are chomping at the bit to see in their Chromebooks, particularly the Chromebook Pixel. Plus, he’d be foolish to pre-announce the demise of Android. Such an announcement could produce an Osborne effect around Android in which people begin to abandon the operating system before Google has had a chance to migrate them to Chrome.
In the end, I don’t see the merging of the operating systems as a matter of “if”, only”when”.