Google is combining its Chrome OS into its dominant Android mobile operating system by 2017 in a move that will give it one unified OS for mobile phones, tablets, Chromebooks and other portable devices.
The changes have been in the works by Google engineers for about two years as they have been merging the two systems, anonymous sources told The Wall Street Journal in an Oct. 29 story. The merged OS will be released as a single Android system in 2017, but an early version is expected to be previewed by Google sometime in 2016, the story said.
The two operating systems have had very different goals and focuses, with Chrome OS being built around the Chrome Web browser to offer users an easy and efficient way to use the Internet on cheaper, simpler devices such as Google’s Web-based Chromebooks. Android, meanwhile, was created as an open-source platform for mobile phones, tablets and other devices.
Android today has some 1.4 billion users and that base is continuing to grow, especially in developing nations, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced recently.
Android holds a 53.5 percent share of the global mobile device and tablet market, according to a September report from NetMarketshare. Apple’s iOS holds a 38.6 percent share, with the remainder made up of Windows Phone, Symbian, BlackBerry and others.
The merger plan for Android and Chrome OS “is also an attempt by Google to get Android running on as many devices as possible to reach as many people as possible,” the Journal reported. “Adding laptops could increase Android’s user base considerably. That should help Google woo more outside developers who want to write apps once and have them work on as many gadgets as possible, with little modification.”
As the changes arrive, Chromebooks will be renamed to reflect the replacement of Chrome OS with Android on the devices, the story continued. Google will, however, still use the Chrome name on its Internet browser for computers and mobile devices.
In addition, Google won’t entirely kill off Chrome OS, the Journal reported. Instead, the company will continue to offer the open source Chrome OS to third-party laptop makers so they can run it on their machines, even after the Chrome OS and Android merger happens with Google’s offerings, the story said.
Rumors and talk about the possible merger of the two mobile operating systems have been heard for several years. In March 2013, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, discussed the topic publicly after Andy Rubin, who had led the Android unit since 2005, left the company and was replaced by Pichai, who has since become the company’s CEO. At the time, Schmidt said that Google was not planning to bring Chrome OS and Android together, but that in the future they “could have more overlap,” according to an earlier eWEEK story. Pichai formerly was the senior vice president of Chrome, Google Apps and Android.
The Chrome OS project has been around since 2009 when Google announced it had begun work on a lighter, browser-based operating system aimed at small, portable devices such as netbooks and notebook computers.
Several IT analysts told eWEEK that the reported merger of the two mobile operating systems is not unexpected.
“I’ve always thought this was inevitable, even when it was being reported that Chrome OS would eventually replace Android” in the past, Jan Dawson, the chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, told eWEEK in an email reply to an inquiry. “That never really made any sense to me, especially given the massive scale of the Android base relative to Chrome OS. Chrome already exists as a Web environment within Android, so it will even be possible to maintain many of the features of Chrome OS within an Android-based operating system.”
The changes won’t be a great loss to OEMs or to Google due to the low volume of sales for Chromebooks, wrote Dawson, “and taking advantage of the scale and flexibility of Android could actually be really good.”
One market that could be affected negatively by the changes is the education market, where Chromebook purchases and use have been very active, wrote Dawson. Those customers will have to wait to see if Android can meet their requirements, he added. “From a user perspective, too, outside of education hardly anyone will notice if Chrome OS goes away.”
Google Reportedly Moving to Merge Chrome OS Into Android
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, agreed that the reported changes by Google have been fully expected by outsiders.
“Google set up an internal competition of sorts and the better platform survived,” Moorhead told eWEEK in an email reply. “Ultimately, I think it will be a good move, but Google should have done it years ago when it was apparent Android had longer legs than Chrome OS and developers weren’t that interested in Chrome OS platform.”
Users and device makers will have to wait to see if it is a good move for them, said Moorhead, based on the reactions from software and hardware developers. “Neither Chrome OS nor Android has many desktop apps, and Android is perceived as a security threat and fragmented. I think the consolidation would increase the chances of more Chrome OS-Android ‘Chromedroid’ applications, but there need to be much more improved devices that are getting better, but still weak compared to full-up PCs.”
What could benefit device makers from the consolidation, he said, would be the creation of more high-quality applications, which could open up new opportunities for device makers. “It should make it easier for current hardware makers of Chromebooks and Android devices to develop new devices as they will have one code base to support. Net-net, to be successful in this rumored venture, Google will need a robust ecosystem of apps for many form factors, quality, and price points.”
Richard Windsor, an analyst with Edison Investment Research, told eWEEK in an email that the rumored merger of the two OSes makes a lot of sense for Google. “The real aim of bringing Chrome OS and Android closer together is likely to allow Google to increase the level of control that it has over the Android OS,” he wrote.
Presently, Google’s software ecosystem exists as a layer of software known as Google Mobile Services (GMS) that sits on top of the Android Open Source Package (AOSP), wrote Windsor. “GMS is proprietary to Google while AOSP is open source. AOSP controls significant aspects of the user experience and because it is open source, it is very fragmented. This has had a huge impact on the quality of the user experience on Android and deleteriously impacted the ease and fun of use of the Google ecosystem.”
By merging Chrome OS and Android, Google would be able to “quietly take much greater control of Android by replacing open source elements of the AOSP with elements from Chrome OS which is not open,” he wrote. “