Something which is probably not too well known to many is that Google maintains two operating systems: Android and Chrome OS. Chrome OS, is different from Google’s Chrome Web Browser, but at the same time, the same. Chrome OS is essentially an operating system that is built around Google’s Chrome browser which runs web apps. While a few Chrome OS apps work offline. For the most part you need an internet connection for Chrome OS to be fully functional. You can also effectively run Chrome OS, by installing the Chrome browser on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
I never saw a conflict between the two. Android was designed to run on touchscreen devices and Chrome OS was designed for traditional laptops with a keyboard and trackpad. The reason for the distinction is the process of interaction and selection. Android apps are designed to run on a handheld device. A lot of games use the gyroscope to aim or are designed exclusively to use gestures. Augmented reality apps require that you freely move the tablet around and use it to point to structures and objects in the real world. Chrome OS uses a lot of traditional drop down menus, with sub-menus work. These work fine for a trackpad with a precise pointer, but can be a bit awkward for our stubbier fingers.
Chrome OS also came with low cost hardware, the Chromebook. Chromebooks are essentially netbooks running Chrome OS. And that explains the raison d’etre for the Chrome OS. Sometime in late 2007 or in 2008, during the height of the netbook craze, Chrome OS was launched. Despite the existence of Chrome OS, hardware manufacturers have been mating Android with a keyboard. Many Android hardware manufacturers have built keyboards for their tablets since the first Android tablets three years ago. The most notable efforts at creating the tablet-laptop hybrid is probably the Asus Transformer series.
The nice dividing line between Chrome OS and Android started to melt last February when Google launched a new Chromebook, the Pixel. The Pixel notably had a touchscreen, something which really will not be very useful with existing Chrome OS apps. A month later, Android chief, Andy Rubin stepped down, and was replaced by Chrome exec, Sundar Pichai. This placed Android development and Chrome OS development under one boss.
Why discuss this now? Two reasons. First, is the rather tame Android 4.3 release. Most users who upgrade to Android 4.3 really will not feel the difference. It gave me the impression that Android 4.3 was really released for developers, with the big feature updates being delayed for Android 5.0, Key Lime Pie. Second, is the launch of yet another tablet-laptop hybrid in the form of the HP Slatebook 10 x2, which will hit the market this August. This is significant because just last month, HP signed a deal with Google and is now offering Google Apps for Business as part of its business solutions packages. While HP also recently released a Chromebook offering, it was a non-touchscreen device. At the same time, HP’s marketing for mobile devices seems to be solidly behind pushing its x2 product line of convertible laptops, which is now comprised of Windows and Android devices.
While I am a big fan of the Chromebook, the writing is on the wall. Google’s Chrome OS is languishing in a market where Android tablets now apparently had 67% share of the tablet market last quarter. Some quarters have suggested that Google should simply beef up the Chrome mobile web browser and kill the Chrome operating system. This would be a mistake in my opinion. Chrome OS is the most secure consumer operating system in world.
Samsung has launched an interesting dual operating system device. The Samsung Ativ Q, runs both Windows and Android 4.2. Switching from one operating system to the other does not require a reboot. A tap of an icon brings you from Windows 8 to Android in a snap. More devices like the Ativ Q, could be Windows’ highway to become a serious contender in the tablet game.
Similarly, Chrome OS could use Android as a tool for mainstream acceptance. You would not have to ponder whether you can live with a Chrome OS device. You are just buying an Android convertible tablet, and Chrome OS is just along for the ride. This would appear to be the logical step for the Chrome OS to follow: keep Chrome OS securely sand boxed, with Android a button click away. This would seem to be a good operating system for a world where the laptop is being replaced by tablets and convertibles.