A recent article in the Wall Street Journal sent wave after wave of controversy through the tech world when it claimed that Google was planning to fold ChromeOS into Android (according to people familiar with the matter). This prompted an immediate response from Hiroshi Lockheimer, a senior VP of Android, Chrome OS and Chromecast:
There’s a ton of momentum for Chromebooks and we are very committed to Chrome OS. I just bought two for my kids for schoolwork!
— Hiroshi Lockheimer (@lockheimer) October 30, 2015
This seems to indicate that Google is committed to keeping Android and ChromeOS seperate, at least for the time being. Eric Schmidt (now executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet) has come now come forward with additional clarification, claiming these merger rumors were rooted in software advancement. “I think the distinctions that are so hardcoded today are allowed to become less hardcoded.”
Schmidt didn’t say in so many words, but to me this seems to indicate that we’re going to see more ChromeOS in Android and more Android in ChromeOS. Google has already put some effort into making a selection of Android apps run on ChromeOS, but what features should we see from ChromeOS start to appear in Android?
Android is currently the most widely used OS on the planet, with an estimated 1.4 billion active devices worldwide. Despite attempts to get into other markets, such as car audio and TV set top boxes, the overwhelming majority of those 1.4 billion devices are phones and tablets. One market that Google has made almost no effort to penetrate has been the desktop PC market. There have been 3rd party attempts. Some, such as the Remix Mini, seem very compelling. Despite those 3rd party efforts, we haven’t seen any attempts from Google.
I think we’re about to.
The PC market has seen a decline as of late due to many people making their phone their primary device. The power and capability of the modern day smart phone has made owning a PC irrelevant. While some people continue to need a full PC, a large percentage of people only use their PC to browse the web, interact on social media, and play the occasional game. All of these things can easily be accomplished on a smart phone.
So, why would Google try to get into a market that is stagnant at best?
I think they already have.
USB-C for the Win!
The latest hardware to come from Google is basically the equivalent of a PC. Consider the new Pixel C. The only thing separating this device from a laptop is a mouse and multi-window functionality. We’ve already seen that Google has developed an extremely primitive multi-window feature for Android, and I don’t doubt that they’re continuing to work on that. Adding functionality from ChromeOS could further facilitate that effort. In fact, a close inspection of the Android desktop interpretation used by Remix looks a lot like a cross between ChromeOS and Android. Hardware wise, all the Pixel C needs is to plug in a mouse to that USB-C port.
Of course Google doesn’t expect everybody to go out and buy a Pixel C, but USB-C creates the perfect opportunity. Google’s recent Nexus 5X and 6P both standardize on the latest USB-C technology, and they’re just the first of many devices that will probably do so. This port supports pretty much everything, from HDMI to VGA, standard USB, and of course power. All it would take to one of Google’s latest smartphones into a desktop PC is a USB-C hub to plug in more than one device. That, and software support for those devices of course. All it would take to make this whole thing work is a slight dusting of the functionality we already see in ChromeOS.
For many people, this would be the best of both worlds. You’d never have to worry about whether your PC and your phone were in sync because they’d be the same device. Files could be backed up straight from your phone to an external hard drive or cloud storage. Mouse, keyboard, and monitor connections would be as simple as plugging your phone in to charge, just like we already do.
Of course, all of this is speculation. Rumors of ChromeOS features being incorporated into Android (and vise versa) as well as a hardware port that supports everything under the Sun doesn’t make for Desktop Android. I don’t have any hidden sources that are giving me the skinny. Still, all the pieces are in place for Google to make a move on the desktop. Maybe, just maybe, Google is about to make a move that could revolutionize how we view the desktop.