Lemme lets you in with a little secret: Google is no ordinary software company.
Underestimate the century, I know, right? But it’s hard to talk about the ever-changing intersection between Android and Chrome OS without asking that first.
I mean, think about it: For just over a decade, Google has been developing and promoting two completely separate but increasingly overlapping paths to experience the best of what its apps and services have to offer.
You know the deal: On the one hand, you have Android — the go-to platform for touch-focused mobile products. And on the other hand, there’s Chrome OS – the once-abstract computer framework that has grown into a powerful operating system that challenges the “everything” platform.
For years, the purpose and path of each platform was easy enough to understand: Android was mostly meant for smartphones, while Chrome OS was designed for larger laptops, desktops, and the best Android app-supporting tablet experience.
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But now, with Google renewing its focus on Android As a tablet platform and cooked up all sorts of concepts to enhance the Android experience on the big screen — many of which, fittingly enough, draw inspiration from Chrome OS — the situation suddenly became murky.
I had the opportunity to chat with Alexander Kocher, Google’s senior director of product management and head of Chrome OS software efforts, about how the two platforms have evolved together and how they can continue to co-exist even as they prepare to compete head-to-head in the big tablet market.
Fair warning: some unexpected discoveries are waiting for you.
Android and Chrome: Two Paths, Two Purposes
Kosher, of all people, knows a thing or two about the evolution of Chrome OS. Join the Chrome OS team as Google prepares to release the Cr-48 — the prototype Chromebook that was sent to testers (and, ahem, low-tech columnists) ahead of the platform’s official release.
In those early days, Chrome OS was little more than a full-screen browser — no desktop, no background, and nothing but the web.
This intro video says it all:
Looking back now, Kocher feels that he and his colleagues were a little ahead of their time in estimating what people were ready for in terms of a web-centric computing paradigm.
“People want it to be simple, but it has to still be strong,” he says.
And while he now acknowledges that Google’s initial vision for the platform may have been a touch “too pure”, he maintains that the starting point was made for the better – giving Google a clear goal and laying the groundwork for many of the computing trends that still see play out today.
“I actually like the fact that we put an anchor all the way to the side… then let’s kind of [ourselves] To gravitate a little to the middle, “I think you need that max.”
This extreme is a far cry from the rich and versatile setup Chrome OS offers today. The evolution of the Chromebook’s touch-centric experience seems almost entirely in line with Google’s unannounced abandon Android As a tablet platform after the 2011 short-lived honeycomb era.
But now that Android tablets are back in the picture as a primary Google focus, where does that leave Chrome OS? Will the Chromebook-as-a-tablet fade away as Android once again takes center stage? How can the two competing forces coexist in a way that makes sense – from the perspective of Google and from the perspective of humans who want to buy a tablet and don’t know what to think?
These questions all make perfect sense, Kocher says. But he says Google already has an answer – one that actually stretches into two separate but equally important parts.
“the first goal [to] to make [the two platforms] They work well together,” he says. It should all look like it was made by one hand. “
This has happened in the Android and Chrome OS alignment that we’ve seen take shape for nearly eight years now — the ongoing “Androidification” of Chrome OS, as I like to call it, along with the newer trend of Chrome OS widgets being brought into the Android realm. .
But then, there is one key point that Kosher emphasizes to understand how Android tablets and Chrome tablets can make sense in tandem with each other – and that’s what they intend to do Act with the associated product.
In short, Android tablets are for “productive mobility,” as Kocher describes it – with content consumption Being a top priority and more complex productivity being an occasional add-on.
Chromebooks, on the other hand, are quite the opposite: they’re meant for “mobile productivity,” with active work Being the primary target and the most passive consumption is a pleasant side benefit.
Ideally, with all devices feeling consistent and connected, buying decisions will mostly be about what a particular product feels right for and for what purpose, and all of that overlaps aside – and once said product is on hand, its owner won’t think much about the platform or The operating system is involved.
“We actually make it work if we just go away [from the user’s perception]Kosher says. The more we do it in the background, the better. “
This certainly makes sense on the surface. But it also excites some else Urgent questions.
Fully aware that we’ve been down this road before, it’s impossible to talk about these things — about the overlap and alignment between Android and Chrome OS — without at least thinking about the question of whether and when the two platforms can converge completely.
To be clear, this does not mean that Google will combine the code and create some sort of giant mutant computing beast (flavourful of the visual as it may be). Instead, he simply wonders whether it will one day be in the company’s best interest to consolidate its strengths and narrow its development energy to a single all-purpose platform of some sort, given the increasing areas of overlap.
For Kocher, the question has two layers: There is the technology layer, with the bits and bytes running the associated products. Then there’s the user experience layer, which is how regular terrestrial mammals like us experience devices on both sides of the spectrum.
“The bottom part is a technological discussion,” Kocher says.
As for the top? Well, get ready to put on your hat interpreting the coded answers:
“What’s underneath doesn’t really matter to the user. You can have 10 different operating systems, one for each form factor, if you want to. The important part is what you present to the user.”
Kocher says that’s why Android and Chrome OS have continued to grow more consistently and interdependently over the years. From Google’s point of view, the operating system is less important than expertise – Increasingly, it is working to present expertise They are so similar that they feel more like different branches of the same tree than completely separate forests.
All this talk raised one more question in my mind – one I’ve been wondering (and preparing creative solutions to get it done) for ages.
Million Dollar Question Android-Chromebook
So here it is: If the plan is for Android and Chrome OS to become more consistent and compatible, when will we see a more customizable desktop, similar to the Android home screen for Chromebooks — one that allows you to add widgets and other types of useful information on your device’s virtual background?
The answer may surprise you.
“It’s a really interesting question that my team asks in every release,” Kocher allows.
And he tells me the idea of bringing more oomph to the Chrome OS desktop is something the team is seriously considering. But—a big reason, and perhaps the reason why the fruits of that thinking have been slow to blossom—he and his team want to be very careful about how they approach any kind of Chromebook desktop expansion.
“The important piece for me is [that] I want to make sure it serves a very specific purpose.”
Desktops in general tend to become “dumping places,” he rightly notes — a mix of copy-and-paste panels for storing files, launchers for organizing apps, and a billion other random uses in between.
Kocher says all of these things are “a solution to some needs,” but he prefers it understand A basic need and a deliberate way to address it rather than just blindly following the status quo.
With this in mind, he wants to make sure that everything that becomes the Chrome OS desktop is thoughtfully designed with a very specific purpose in mind. Dropping files into that space didn’t seem like the perfect solution in a very logical (and very Googley) Kuscher view, for example — so instead his team came up with the concept of Tote, a recently added area of a Chromebook’s taskbar that displays Screenshots and recent downloads and allows you to pin important files for easy access from anywhere.
“It’s a different solution to the same problem,” he says.
So what role could a Chrome OS desktop be well suited to play other than just providing a fun space to stare at your wallpaper? The answer comes from a familiar source – and if you’re like me, you’ll be glad to hear it:
The Chrome OS desktop could one day become a destination for both tools and other forms of surrounding information. Yes – there is a bit of a welcome for Android on this side of the Google world.
But don’t expect it to look like a clone of Android. Without divulging too many details about thinking about this (or even when we see it start to take shape), Kosher tells me one important thing about his long-term plans for the Chromebook desktop: The software’s desktop won’t look exactly like any other platform, and it won’t allow that area of the interface turning into a kind of crowded dumping ground for all the purposes we see in traditional desktop operating systems.
In the end, it all comes back to Kuscher’s overarching goal with Chrome OS – one he’s had since the platform’s early days: simplicity. For every piece of strength added to the equation, he strives to step back and think about how he and his team can maintain the simplicity that existed before it.
It’s a moving target and Google doesn’t always get it right, but it’s something Kosher definitely tries to keep front and center in his impossibly busy brain.
“That’s the holy grail – making really complicated things really easy,” he says.
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