Google's Eric Schmidt: Chrome, Android to Remain Separate

Google's Android and Chrome operating systems could, however, gain more overlap in the future, Eric Schmidt reportedly said.

Google is not bringing Chrome and Android together, despite replacing the leader of its Android mobile group with a senior vice president of Chrome, Google Apps and Android.

That's the opinion of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who made the remark while on a business tour of India and other nations, according to a March 21 report by Reuters.

But while Chrome OS and Android, the company’s mobile operating system, will remain separate products, Schmidt said, they "could have more overlap," reported Reuters.

Schmidt, who served as Google's CEO from 2001 to 2011, brings up an interesting issue just a week after Andy Rubin, who had been the head of the Android unit since 2005, stepped down to pursue as-yet-unknown new ventures within the company.

Interestingly, Rubin is being replaced by Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome, Google Apps and Android, according to Google. While Rubin built up Android, Pichai is credited with building up both Google Apps and the Chrome browser.

The moves come after Android had surpassed iOS as the world's most broadly deployed mobile OS, with more than 750 million devices sold to date and more than 25 billion apps downloaded from the Google Play Store.

Several IT analysts who spoke with eWEEK regarding Schmidt's comment about the existing boundary between Chrome and Android say that it makes sense to keep them separate.

"Fundamentally, those teams probably have different road maps," said Dan Maycock of Slalom Consulting. "Chrome and Android are trying to achieve different things."

Chrome is "more central to Google's future, because through Chrome you can access all the things that Google makes money on," from search to online ads and more, Maycock said. "Android is a cousin to that, in that it creates more value for Google. But Android is more of a subsidiary and less of a core competency. It's more like something that Google is working on, like Google Glass or self-driving cars."

In addition, Google has different business cases for the two operating systems, he said.

"It doesn't make sense to combine it for Google, unless they'd fundamentally re-engineer both products," Maycock said. And even if the company did that, it could hurt the markets they already have, he added.

"I think they're doing fine on their own," Maycock said.

Chris Silva, an analyst with Altimeter Group, said the continuing divide between Chrome OS and Android is reasonable because Chrome "has a very specific market niche in low-end computing, shared devices, educational markets and the like. Having that subsumed into Android, or vice versa, really wouldn't make a lot of sense."

Instead, Silva said he expects to see a separate Chrome OS "emerge as Google's beta platform for some mobile features that might make their way to Android," such as unified messaging through the company's rumored Blabber service. Other areas where crossovers have already occurred include the unification of browsing history across Chrome OS and the Chrome Web browser, as well as in Android and Chrome for Android, he said.

"I do expect to see [Chrome] continue to exist and maintain its role as a beta shop for what we ultimately see on Android," Silva said.

At least one analyst, however, said it's inevitable that one day Chrome and Android will become one.

"Users may fight it and vendors may fight it, but this is the way things will go" as computing becomes device agnostic over the next three to five years, said Chris Hazelton of 451 Research.

"You'll see very strong mobile hardware in the next two years and then it will take a few years for user acceptance of one similar operating system," Hazelton said. "For the vast majority of what people are doing, their needs will be powered by a browser for office work and the Web. The difference in capabilities will go away."

The trend that is being seen today is one in which desktop and mobile platforms converge, which is already happening with Apple's Mac OS for desktops and laptops and Apple's iOS mobile operating system, he said. “In iMacs and Macbooks, you're seeing a lot of gesture-driven navigation, which comes from the touch-focused navigation of iOS."

The Chrome OS project has been around since 2009 when Google announced it had begun work on a lighter, browser-based operating system that was aimed at small, portable devices such as netbooks or notebook computers.