Google to merge Android and Chrome OS in 2017

Google plans to merge its Chrome operating system, currently used in notebook and desktop computers, with its Android operating system used in smartphones and tablets, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google has not confirmed what was reported. Keeping that in mind, here’s what the WSJ says what has and what will happen:

  • Chrome OS will be “folded” into Android;
  • Google has been working on this unification for about two years;
  • The unified OS will be shown, but not released, in 2016;
  • The unified OS will launch in 2017;
  • Chrome OS will remain a supported Open Source project that manufacturers can choose to use.
    However, Google will focus its notebook efforts on the unified platform.

With the understanding that the Droid branding belongs to Disney and Lucasfilm and is licensed to Verizon Wireless, I’m going to call the merged unified platform ChromeDroid as a shorthand for the rest of this article. There are a couple of important questions that will be answered in the next two years:

  • Will ChromeDroid only be available on notebook-type devices? Or, will the platform be consistent with Android tablets and phones?
  • Will it have a single user interface, or will it have separate desktop and tablet interfaces like Microsoft Windows 8 and 10?
  • Will current Chromebooks be able to upgrade to ChromeDroid?
  • Many Android devices seem to get through one or two upgrade cycles before being orphaned.
    Will ChromeDroid ensure the kind of multi-year upgrade path that Windows and Mac OS X notebooks have?
  • Will Google solve the Android fragmentation problem by 2017? Android 5.0 Lollipop was released in November 2014. However, almost an entire year later, 76.5% of Android devices that access the Google Play Store still use an older version, according to Google’s own Android Dashboard.
  • Chromebook security, update, and recovery processes are widely recognized as simple, safe, and straightforward. Can ChromeDroid provide the same kind of simplicity and safety? Or, will it have the kind of end-user management complexity we see in Microsoft Windows?

You can find Android notebooks with a touch screen today. But these devices generally have the status of outcast mutants with strange powers and are not mainstream products. The HP SlateBook 14 (pictured above), for example, was introduced in 2014, but is no longer listed as an active product on HP’s website. You can find it on Amazon, however. It has a 14-inch touch screen, a 1.8GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 quad-core mobile processor, 2 GB RAM, and 16 GB eMMC storage. It also has a rich set of ports, including a microSD slot, one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, and Ethernet and headphone jacks.

Most notably, as you can see in the above photo, the HP SlateBook 14 has a full-size keyboard and trackpad. But thanks to various software snafus, this product never entered the mainstream. Chromebooks have, but it remains to be seen what will happen with this new combo OS. This may not have been as important several years ago when Microsoft was struggling to deal with the failure of Windows 8. However, Windows 10, which launched earlier this year, appears to have fixed many of the issues that made Windows 8 so unpopular. And, its Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book hardware appears to be selling well and are mostly well-received by reviewers and end users.

T-Mobile G1

Personally, I’ve wanted an Android notebook since the first time I tried a T-Mobile G1 (pictured above) back in 2008. The G1, as you may recall, was the first Android phone. It had a physical keyboard and what I thought was an extremely useful miniature trackball to complement its touch screen. At this point, all we can do is wait for an official announcement from Google about this direction the WSJ says the company is taking.


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