Tech Talk: Chrome OS & Android Merger Is Still Not Necessary

August 14, 2017 - Written By Daniel Golightly

Google’s Chrome OS may not have merged yet with Android as some have predicted it would but there is still a lot to suggest the company has a direct focus on making the use of its various platforms a more consistent experience. In fact, if experimental features are anything to go by, the two platforms may be almost indistinguishable in many regards over the next several months. That’s not to say they won’t remain fundamentally different in both intended purpose and actual usage. However, users going between the two could soon find that transition to be much easier, thanks to overall UI design changes, enhanced options for interaction, and some new features that are expected to hit Android itself at an API level.

Perhaps the most well-known way Chrome OS is shifting toward a more direct tie to Android OS is the inclusion of Android Apps for Chrome that the company has slowly been pushing to various Chromebooks. The company is expected to accelerate that process by including new API changes in the upcoming Android 8.0. The new mobile OS’s API is rumored to include changes that make it easier to port Android applications to Chrome OS by making the apps run more like native Chrome OS apps once ported over. Those apps, as of this writing, are even accessible via a web-based variant of the Google Play Store for many Chromebooks.

Beyond the simple porting of applications, Google is also experimenting with touch-control in the canary channel, which means that using those applications will be even more like using an Android tablet or phone. Optimization for touch starts in the way the interface is navigated. In that same experimental developer’s channel, the UI shows not only swipeable access to an apps drawer but also features a back button, home button, and recent apps button. Each of these functions similarly to how they do in Android. Moreover, Chrome OS has also been rumored to be getting Google’s A.I.-powered Google Assistant in a future release. That follows the discovery of a button bearing the Assistant label in a recently leaked keyboard for Chromebook. The addition of Google Assistant, coupled with the above-mentioned push to create consistency, will make the entire experience feel much more familiar to Android users.

Bearing all of that in mind, Google still won’t necessarily combine its two operating systems. For one thing, they are used in fundamentally different ways. Chrome OS has made substantial headway in the education market thanks to its much more frequent updates – including security updates –  and costs. There are other factors there as well, not least of all that it has many of the same features attributable to its laptop form-factor, such as a full keyboard and easy screen mirroring via HDMI and other methods. The company isn’t likely to make decisions that compromise that important piece of the Chrome OS puzzle. Android, meanwhile, is still mostly controlled by OEM manufacturers and many of those use their own overlays and stock apps. It also boots up significantly slower than Chrome OS and is more prone to malicious software, since Google has near complete control over its laptop-like OS.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Chrome OS has nothing to gain from Android. The inclusion of more native-run Android applications frees users of the system to use their laptops in more ways than the currently available web-apps do. With mobile platforms rapidly outpacing PC-based computing solutions for a large part of the markets they overlap in, having an OS that can function with the often more intuitive touch controls Android puts forward is yet another benefit. With that said, it also bears mentioning that not every experimental feature from Chrome OS’ developer channels will certainly make it to the consumer-ready stable channel. So, for the time being, Google may not go down the seemingly obvious path and merge the two.  The company could also still ultimately make the decision to combine the two but the matter is still very much up in the air while the move still seems unnecessary.