Google Chrome and Android – Why not AndroChrome?
Last week’s buzz over Google’s announcement of its Chrome desktop (and presumably notetop) OS led me and my readers to ask why the Silicon Valley behemoth needs two mobile OSes. If device OEMs are working to retool, refactor and deploy Android for netbooks, why can’t Google do the same?
Google’s rationale for launching Chrome as a separate OS from Android centers on differences in visual form factor and connectivity, as aligned with Google’s commercial goals. Google’s building and backing of Android was motivated by the company’s desire to promulgate its search-and-advertising revenue model to ubiquitous 3G mobile hardware.
While Google could have continued with distribution of various mobile apps (Maps, etc.) and mobile browser-based search on competing platforms (especially iPhone), the company appears to want to create a more integrated mobile experience and also be able to gather user data uniquely associated with mobile use cases. Google also needed a mobile OS that had stand-alone, stateful capabilities, given the still-evolving level of connectivity and available bandwidth on 3G networks, especially in North America. Building Android to run Java (Dalvik is J2SE compatible) also gives OEMs deploying the platform the ability to leverage both existing mobile developer expertise (still very Java-centric) as well enterprise and desktop Java-savvy developers.
The desktop, by contrast, already has a working search-and-advertising model at larger visual form factors, but also enjoys high bandwidth connectivity. For tethered devices with broadband, it makes more sense to build a web-based OS, in this case with the Chrome browser and a stripped down version of Linux.
Google’s choices reflect a dynamic I have documented in some of my recent blog entries, emphasizing that there is a difference in coming “down from notebooks” and “up from handsets”. As sales of traditional (too soon to say legacy?) desktop PC and fully-loaded notebooks have flattened and perhaps begin to slide, the trend from PC manufacturers has been to cost-down those devices. A web-based OS for PCs, notebooks and now netbooks supports that trend, requiring less memory, minimal mass storage, and less potent client CPUs (even as multi-core silicon becomes cheaply available).
On the “up from phones” curve, Android supports smarter smartphones, while still being a mobile phone OS (telephony, power management, footprint, LBS, etc.).
I myself do not see a clear point of convergence, just convergent trends. The key for success for notebooks and netbooks with diminishing provisioning will be Google’s and others’ ability to leverage the cloud. To date, minimalist netbooks, running versions of Linux, have failed to make the jump from local to cloud computing for two reasons: because PC OEMs and their channels still upsell on specs, leaving space for Microsoft as users opt to extend/mimic the desktop experience with Windows, Office, etc. and more strategically, because the value proposition of the cloud does not yet translate to the average end user.
With all the fuss over Chrome as a gauntlet thrown down to Microsoft, I think these and other basic questions are going unanswered. I’d be eager to hear your views.