Tech Talk: Android And Chrome OS Sharing Features

Google maintains and supports two consumer-facing operating systems: the Android and Chrome OS platforms. Both of these are based on a LINUX foundation and both integrate closely with Google's existing products and services, yet both work in a different way. Android is better optimized for smartphones but may also be used on tablets and laptop-type machines. Chrome OS, by contrast, was designed with a laptop chassis in mind and so has evolved along a different route.

We had seen rumours and stories that Google was not investing so much into the Chrome OS platform. The operating system was mostly absent from the 2015 I/O Developer Conference and those few stories that emerged about porting Android applications to Chrome OS, including the Google demonstration, seemed to die off. Rumors also surfaced that stated Google were considering merging the two operating system platforms and products such as the Google Pixel C, a convertible tablet running Android, which seems to have been originally designed for the Chrome OS platform, seemed to strike a chord: what is Google doing with the two operating system families? Google I/O 2016 came along and we see that the two platforms will continue on as separate entities but it seems that their respective product development teams have been taking a long, hard look at the other platform to see how they might be inspired to improve things.

To this end, we've seen how the Chromebook platform is to gain the Google Play Store and accompanying Android framework. Many recent Chromebook models will be compatible with Android applications. This is great news for both platforms: it will mean that developers can write productivity applications for the Android and Chromebook platforms for a wider audience. The Chromebook platform will gain around 1.5 million applications. It remains to be seen how this will change the thin client / Google cloud relationship that the Chromebook enjoys in the real world.

Android is sharing the Play Store love and Chrome OS is sharing one of the platform's greatest, but easily overlooked, features: seamless updates. For those readers who have not used a Chromebook, seamless updates make life easy. One of Chrome OS' biggest advantages is that the platform is based around being the thin client to Google's infrastructure, so essentially the operating system is lightweight and relatively simple. It does handle data locally but this is a cache to the Google cloud service. The operating system mostly consists of the Chrome browser running atop a lightweight LINUX foundation. Software updates consist of an update to the browser, which works the same way as it does on the desktop platform: software updates are silently downloaded in the background, the user is typically notified with a tiny symbol, and closing and reopening the browser is all that is needed to complete the update. For a Chromebook, this means a reboot, which can take all of ten seconds depending on the model. Depending on the version of Microsoft Windows, it is a similar way to update the operating system but much quicker.

Seamless software updates are coming to the Android platform, and Google have admitted that they've taken the idea from how the Chromebook applies updates. Unfortunately, Google have announced that current devices will not gain the ability to offer seamless updates. Newer devices released with Android N may gain the feature, but older handsets will require internal memory to be repartitioned, which Google is claiming is too difficult a process for many users. It seems likely that developers will find a way around this before too long, meaning for Nexus customers prepared to modify their devices, it's possible that current devices will gain the seamless update ability.

It's still possible that the Android and Chrome OS platforms will be merged at some point. Perhaps the mobile version of the Chrome browser will become powerful enough such that there is no need for the Chrome operating system? Perhaps Android will gain a better way of working on laptop type machines? Looking forwards, there is great potential here for the platforms to continue sharing best ideas, or to become amalgamated at some point in the future. Either way, for the customer investing in a new Android or Chrome product in a few months time, the devices will be closer aligned than ever before.

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About the Author

David Steele

Senior Staff Writer
I grew up with 8-bit computers and moved into PDAs in my professional life, using a number of devices from early Windows CE clamshells and later. Today, my main devices are a Nexus 5X, a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and a coffee cup.
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