Is Google spreading itself too thin with Android and Chrome? [RETROSPECTIVE]


With Google I/O 2011 in the rear view mirror, I have been thinking a lot about an issue that seemed front-and-center just a year ago, but was relatively absent from this year’s media coverage of the annual developer conference. It has to do with Google’s two operating systems. If we rewind the clock to early 2010, before the CR-48 netbook even existed, the big question was how would Android and Chrome co-exist, let alone thrive, in a market shifting towards portable, internet-connected devices. Of course, back then it wasn’t known how Google planned to deploy Chrome.

Some wondered which operating system would be Google’s focus for tablets, a hot technology in the wake of the original iPad. Would Chrome be on tablets? Would Android be on tablets, too? The tablet seemed the key to success (and very well still could be), and if Google neglected to get Android on tablets in favor of Chrome many wondered if that would be a major blow for the mobile OS in its fight against Apple.

A year later, we have a better idea of what Google is doing with their two platforms. For now, the tech giant seems content to leave Chrome as an OS for non-touchscreen devices. This year’s I/O brought two new netbooks — one from Acer and one from Samsung — dubbed Chromebooks and due this summer. We were also teased with a desktop Chromebox, though release plans weren’t announced. Since May 2010, Android has split off into two branches, one for tablets (Honeycomb) and one for smartphones (Gingerbread). The plan is to unify the experience in an upcoming release, Ice Cream Sandwich, which is slated for the end of the year.

Then there is Google TV, a platform which in its original incarnation merged features of Android and Chrome to create a unique internet television experience. It was revealed at I/O that summer will see Google TV updated to Android 3.1 Honeycomb, which will bring about a more-familiar Android experience, including the Android Market. We’d expect the Chrome browser portion of GTV will remain.

Which brings me back to where this all started. A single question: Is Google spreading itself too thin? Initial worry was that the having both Chrome and Android might confuse consumers searching for Google-approved products, but a clearer division between smartphones, tablets, and netbooks has erased much of this concern. What we might fear now is developer support from a group of software engineers who already feel alienated by the so-called fragmentation of the Android platform. In addition to several versions of Android floating around on mobile handsets, developers now have the task of targeting a separate version for tablets and Google TV. Then there is the relatively untapped territory known as the Chrome App Store, which hosts rich web-based experiences.

If the turnout at Google I/O is any indication, developers are eager to work with Google and create content for their various platforms. However, we still must wonder if one Google OS will eventually cannibalize the other. It’s safe to say that Android has the biggest head of steam right now, which may detract some away from Chrome, an OS that some feel hesitant about due to its new approach to cloud-based computing. Nonetheless, Google is making a huge push for institutional and corporate adoption of the platform.

Could we eventually see a day where Google merges Android and Chrome? Would it take one operating system failing to trigger such an event, or is it part of Google’s plan from the get-go? We’ve come a long way since last year’s I/O conference, and what happens next year we can only guess. What we learned this week has us feeling relatively confident that both Chrome and Android can co-exist and experience success. But we also must remember: Google’s tendency to keep their hands in as many cookie jars as possible has often been the key factor to both their successes and their failures.

Kevin Krause
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  1. My question is… What happen to the I/O contest giveaway?

    1. We have selected the winner of the Tab. Didn’t anticipate we’d have a Chromebook and 4G modem to give away as well. E-Mail will come on Monday!

  2.  I think its a good call on Google part. Both modes of computing have there virtues but only the market will tell which way is the way to go. Google wants to be on the bleeding edge no matter what the case. Contrast this to MS/Apple/Rim etc. who are investing heavy in mobile markets that might not pan out.

    My outlook is that chrome and android will merge if not in code base than in infrastructure. Android front ends interfacing chrome applications on the back end.

    1. I don’t think they should merge them together.  I want my phone to store information locally and not be usable by anyone.

      I want a laptop for personal use that is more like a web applicance that doesn’t store any information on it and is secure so that I can browse the web privately at times and not worry that some sketchy website will be able to hack into my other stuff. 

      There are specific appealing qualities that chrome has that will disappear if you merge them.

    2. To me, merge means to compromise the basic premise of Chrome “the OS”. The idea behind Chrome is that everything is run in the browser and stored in the cloud. If you merge the two, you basically have Android with a browser capable of running Chrome apps. which is probably possible for the most part anyway.. Perhaps Google may come out with Chrome “the Browser” for Android, and tweak it to work better with Chrome “the OS” apps.. but the whole merge idea doesn’t really mean what people would think it means.. If you look at it from the Chrome point of view instead of Android.. then you get back to turning Chrome into Android, or running Android apps in a browser.

  3.  I’d love if they’d merge ’em together!

  4.  srsly, what’s with totally not doing the I/O giveaway (which was supposed to be on Tuesday). You didn’t fall in love with the Tab 10.1 and decide to keep it did you? :O 

    1. We have selected the winner of the Tab. Didn’t anticipate we’d have a Chromebook and 4G modem to give away as well. E-Mail will come on Monday! 

      1. Has the winner been named publicly or is it a secret? 

  5. I love Android for my phone, think I would enjoy Android on a tablet, but Chrome I have no use for. I’ll stick to Windows and Linux for my desktops and notebooks. With my laptop and phone, I can do everything I want. I just do not see a use for Chrome in my world at all. I am not going to make phone calls with it, so it isn’t replacing my phone, and it is not robust enough to handle what I need my desktop and laptop to perform.

  6.  Google is not spreading themselves to thin…they have the personnel and the money to support both those projects and the list of other projects they are doing. I think taht is another thing that makes Google so awesome. and the money to support both those projects and the list of other projects they are doing. I think taht is another thing that makes Google so awesome.

    1. You’re post messed me up for a second but I agree. 

  7.  they may be trying to contact the winner, you know, giving the person a reasonable amount of time to reply or something. Maybe that is why we haven’t seen an announcement yet…if that’s the case, then it means I didn’t win…#:^(

  8.  Once the Chrome Browser is released for Android, things will be much simpler. You want to make something cloud based, used Chrome. Something that needs more… Android. Chrome apps, once Android Chrome is released, will not cannibalize away from Android as they will be on Android. Chrome is just Googles cross platform development platform.

    I expect Android netbooks to become more successful then Chrome OS however.

    1. Google people stated in one of the Q&A’s that there will never be an official version of Chrome for Android (I presume they mean a full featured version).

      1. Hmm, if that’s true its very unfortunate. I suspect it would be to promote their os. It does contradict some much older news that they would eventually merge but things change. Thanks for the news.

      2. If you are talking abiout the fireside chat, that is not what was said. 

  9.  I think they have spent all their resources on tablets and neglected phones, personally.  I think Android has spread it’s resources to thin and Chrome is just wildly different and doesn’t have any impact on Android.

    I’ve wanted a Chrome netbook from the moment I saw it and have never wanted a Android tablet and never will.

  10.  I honestly still don’t even know what “Chrome OS” is. Is it JUST a browser? Doesn’t that make it work inside ANY OS?

    1. It’s an OS minus everything but the browser.  Chrome will work inside of every other desktop OS, but if you don’t really have a need for desktop apps other than the browser, why not dump them in favor of lower power consumption, more security, etc?  

      1.  I have a kickass smartphone for all of that. If I need to jump up to a larger form factor, I’d much rather have something that allowed me to edit videos, use Photoshop, etc.

        I don’t understand the obsession with creating larger products that do less and cost more. I’d pay $100 for a ‘lapdock’ for my Droid X, but I’m not gonna pay more than that for something that ONLY does Chrome. I just don’t get it, I guess.

    2. Its an os that doesn’t have much more them just the browser. Simpler, web based app, fast. Good concept but for the low cost of a few more seconds boot up you can have an os like android or windows that has native apps in addition to the browser.

    3. 2 things:

      1) Chrome is more about what it is not than what it is:
      It is _not_ something on which you have to load an anti-virus, it does not have a hard drive that inevitably holds a version of a file that is out of sync with the one on another machine, it does not have an annoying OS that asks you to download updates and reboot, it does not add the worry of having to duplicate installs of programs you purchased (how many installs am I allowed again?), it is not loaded with apps that will also pester you to check for updates, and so for forth and so on.

      Basically it’s an other machine in your arsenal without the PIA of maintaining yet another up-to-date, secure, and synchronized system/OS.

      I have a netbook that I use occasionally when I travel and every time I pull it out after not using it for a few weeks I have to spend an hour dealing with all its little quibbles and needs. So done with that. Can’t wait to get my Chromebook!

      2) It is a product directed primarily at businesses, schools and governments not at the consumer. Look at the keynote again and you’ll see the Chrome OS part is largely focused on the costs of maintaining a fleet of laptops for employees.

    4.  You’ve exactly hit on the problem with Chrome OS, and it’s the same problem I had with Wave: WTF is it?

      I had a dozen people send me Wave invitations, but no one — including Google — bothered telling what it was or why I might find it useful. In Chrome’s case, Google has muddied the waters further by having (apparently) 2 products with the same name. I know I could track down the information to make sense of all this, but why bother?

      I WORK with computers all day, every day, and have no idea what the point of a “Chromebook” is. So I guarantee that the general buying public doesn’t either.

      Hell, if you GAVE me one of these devices, the first thing I’d want to do is put Linux on it so that it would be useful to me (assuming that’s even possible). Google hasn’t given me any reason to bother even booting into Chrome to try it out.

  11. Too thin? You got multiple phones across different manufacturers all crying out in various volumes of pains for Android updates while stressing: ANGRY BIRDS, ANGRY BIDS as the future of gaming. Kinda   actually

  12. Both Chrome and Android are class “the best defense is a good offense” plays, but to different ends.  Chrome (not Chrome OS) has completely changed the game for other web browsers, forcing a rapid advance of web standards that might otherwise have lagged, and will give Google the ability create more robust cloud services as a result.  Chrome OS demonstrates that when Microsoft tries to compete in the “modern browser” war, they sew the seeds of their ultimate defeat – the better the browser, the more services move to the cloud, the less people need the rest of the local OS.  It may be premature, but it looks an awful lot like the future to me.  Android was a defensive play make sure a single company couldn’t come between Google and end users, but it’s sort of taken on a life of its own (absent android, could you imagine google renting movies through youtube?).

  13.  They both have their places, for now.  Chrome is great for a High Bandwidth environment, and Android works well in a Mid to Low Bandwidth one.  Since both Android and Chrome have similar hardware requirements, the deciding factor will be which falls faster:  the cost of hardware vs. bandwidth.   Android has the advantage if hardware drops faster than bandwidth, and the advantage is to Chrome if bandwidth drop faster.  In the corporate world, bandwidth is less expensive than hardware, so I expect Chromebooks to take hold there. if hardware drops faster than bandwidth, and the advantage is to Chrome if bandwidth drop faster.  In the corporate world, bandwidth is less expensive than hardware, so I expect Chromebooks to take hold there.

    1.  I agree that Chrome OS and Android have different use cases, and they will for the foreseeable future. Even if Android lands in enterprises, it would still be differently from chromebooks in enterprises. Android tablets wouldn’t be the main computers for most employees.

  14. I don’t think Google is spreading itself too thin, just branching out and feeling for how the market will shift in the future. It’s providing new and innovative ideas and will adapt to what the people want. Besides, Google is huge, and it can do that just fine.

    Chrome OS, Chrome, and Android interact well together and I’m happy to switch between multiple devices and still be in my world of stuff. The main features of my life (gmail, calendar, tasks) are available on all three. The apps and things I do on my Cr-48 are available to me on my desktop running the Chrome browser. It would be nice if my android handset or tablet had the same compatibility, and maybe someday it will. But I still feel like none of these are complete solution devices. I’ll be attending a course shortly that requires mobile computing in class, and while I seem to have every other device out there (desktop, cr-48, netbook, tablet, smartphone) I lack a regular old laptop. I am unable to use any of these because class materials are handed out via CD (archaic I know). But since tablets and chromebooks, in my opinion, are additional devices that won’t replace your computer, I’m wondering how many devices people will shell out their hard earned money for, and which niches these devices will fill. So Google, what’s your business plan, what markets are you creating your devices for? Chrome OS lacks the abundant functionality of Windows and Macs so it won’t replace it anytime soon in the mainstream, and the mainstream loves the tablets for mobile computing/gaming. So while I support Google’s innovation, where is it going with it? 

  15.  Windows7/WinPhone7; OSX/iOS; Chrome/Android…. what’s the problem?

    1.  Here’s the problem: With both WinPhone and iOS, you were buying a new device, so you’d expect it to have an unfamiliar interface.

      With Chrome OS, you’re buying a laptop (something that’s been around forever) with an unfamiliar OS. Who would do that, and why? What problem does the Chromebook solve that any netbook running Linux or Windows or OSX doesn’t already solve? Why is it better?

      Here’s an exercise: Explain why you use the OS’s you use:

      *I like Windows 7 because it runs all my legacy applications (and I need it for work).
      *I like OSX because it’s super easy to use and has a great interface.
      *I like Linux because it’s free and runs on my 10-year-old laptop.
      *I like Chrome OS because…well…I have no idea why I’m supposed to like it.

      Google has done a piss poor job convincing me that there’s any point to Chrome OS at all.

      1. the interface is not all that unfamiliar if you are using chrome browser.  As I understand the value proposition is to reduce the cost for IT to maintain systems. 

        1.  As soon as I saw the app store for the Chrome web browser, I understood the value that Google was shooting for. Not *only* will you have universally accessible apps, but you will have them synced and accessible **across any platform**

        2.  agreed. chrome will be geared toward shools, businesses and anyone who is tasked with maintaining hundreds of computers like myself. i wish my office was on chromebooks, unfortunately it may be a while before the applications we need have a web client as powerful as the native windows counterpart. heck many of them are still ie only!

      2. I have a Cr-48. If for no other reason, my response to your exercise would be
        “I like Chrome OS because I don’t have to install goddamn updates ever week like I did on my OSX and XP and Linux machines!”
        I found those reboot to update prompts so annoying, and often would put off updating for weeks, at the expense of the security and stability of my machine. With a chromebook there is no updating, its done automatically, and theoretically the machine is more secure, the fast bootup is fantastic, and so is the battery life (8-10 hrs unplugged). 

        It is a new idea, and the world isn’t 100% ready, but sometimes you have to push a little bit to get the world there, and I think it is a good direction to go.  

  16. This is just a silly question/concern. It’s a no-brainer to get Chrome apps working on Android, since Android already has a WebKit-based browser. And now Dalvik works natively on x86, so it shouldn’t be too much work to get Android apps running on ChromeOS. Both could work in a mostly native way in the other host environment.

    Starting two separate projects demonstrates Google’s wisdom: if you’re not cannibalizing your own market share by having multiple internal competing projects, then somebody else is.

  17.  Is Apple spreading themselves too thin? iOS on a tablet, phone, laptop, and PC. Oh and lets not forget Safari. Google will do just fine. Don’t you all worry.

  18.  Spread to thin? Not really. Chrome OS is really nothing more than Chrome the browser. Working on their web apps, pushing toolkits like GWT and hosting like AppEngine IS working on Chrome. The whole point is to move apps to the web. Sometimes Android fans get a little short sighted… Google is WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY bigger than just Android….or Chrome OS for that matter. Chrome OS is just an extension of what they’ve been doing well before they even launched Android. I think they are big enough to handle that.

  19.  Its particularly puzzling to me why some forms of fragmentation are put in such a negative tone. Sure, having to develop for tablets, phones, and televisions can be considered fragmentation, but is it bad? It opens up new markets for developers to easily port their apps instead of supporting multiple OS’s. If its really that challenging for a developer, they can simply choose to not support certain form factors. Having the diverse device pool seems like it’d be a welcome thing to developers instead of a negative thing. It seems like a minor inconvenience for easy access to a whole new market of devices.

  20. No. Absolutely not spreading too thin. Notebook market is still very big and strong. The Chromebook is well positioned in that category. Just look at Apple is still selling well on their MacBook. I don’t see anyone talking about Apple spreading too thin. And I don’t see anyone talking about merging iOS and OS X.

  21.  Just do away with chrome.  Problem solved!!!!!

  22.  They are definitely spreading themselves too thin. Can they not see that Android could be Windows in 5 years if they put the right amount of focus into it? The Chrome team should take a breather from their ultra fast update pace and focus on bringing Chrome to Android. Let’s face it Chrome OS doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It will probably progress the industry but it definitely doesn’t really make sense.

    They also need to focus on better design for Honeycomb. Honeycomb does not look timeless, some aspects of it are just gimmicky, like the “Holographic” home panes. WebOS, IOS and even Blackberry Playbook all have nicer UI’s in my opinion, I definitely don’t think their better, but their UI’s are nicer.

    If Android became my operating system I would be so happy! Imagine GPS and calling on a laptop, its about damn time!

  23.  They’ll just create dual boot options for both Chrome OS and Android like Google TV on their tablets and phones, if you have an internet connection you can utilize the efficiency of Chrome OS by accessing cloud services and if you want/need to run apts nativiely “wah lah,” Android.

  24. I don’t think one OS will cannibalize the other; rather I think Android and Chrome will work together to finally push everyone to the cloud—the one thing that Google has always wanted to do.  

    The first time I saw the ATRIX and WebTop from Motorola, I couldn’t help but think of Android and Chrome. Think about it: what if Android becomes the brain and heart of a Chromebook? What if, in the future, Chromebooks begin to sport DOCKS that would allow Android phones to be connected to them and serve as their storage/memory?

    If my visions are correct, we will soon see Android phones docked into Chromebooks and give consumers the very best of what the web, and Google, can offer.

  25.  I recall the title: “One OS Everywhere?” Isn’t that the answer to the original question?

  26. The author is obviously exhibiting a lack of familiarity with anything other than a smartphone lol – this is comparing Apples with Oranges.  If I want to go for a run I wear sneakers not wellington boots and I do not ever see a ‘grand unifying theory of footwear’ replacing that choice scenario either :p  Android playing Chrome is as retarded as iPad being nothing but a Jumbo iPhone OS … with the added farce of potentially then adding that to a keyboard non touch device … results in this article being rather daft. I think if this was the main takeaway from I/O someone seems to have fallen asleep and/or got themselves totally lost [a lot of folks above need to go back to basics and read what a Computer and an Operating System actually is].

  27. …. and geeez these ‘privacy’ peeps who incessantly dream on that anything is PRIVATE … wake up and smell the coffee, the instant data is on any digital device it is no longer private.  Privacy is like Democracy … sounds good but doesn’t actually exist. data is on any digital device it is no longer private.  Privacy is like Democracy … sounds good but doesn’t actually exist.

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