Google dominated technology talk last week with its annual Google I/O developer conference. Whether it was taking jabs at Apple, launching new Web video technology, or offering a competitor to Amazon.com's cloud computing S3 service, Google didn't disappoint its fans.
Hoopla aside, the conference's focus was on Google's Android operating system and the mobile ecosystem it has spawned.Counting Google TV, the company devoted nearly a quarter of its stage and talk time to Android.Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt, Vice-President of Engineering Vic Gundotra, and Android brain Andy Rubin all waxed eloquent about the software.Google's planned Chrome operating system, meanwhile, appears to have turned into little more than an afterthought.
Yes, Google held a press conference at which co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin talked up the Chrome Web Store, but that was pretty much it. This is because—while Chrome still awaits its day in the sun—Android has taken on a life of its own. By the time the Chrome OS becomes available via devices on store shelves, who knows where Android will be?
Android's booming adaptability
Look at some of the most recent Android-specific stats:
Some 100,000 Android-based phones are activated every day.
It's on 60 devices from 21 OEM makers on 59 carriers in 48 countries.
There are 50,000 apps in the Android Market Place.
In the first quarter, Android was the second-best-selling smartphone OS in the U.S., after RIM's BlackBerry.
"I am delighted to see Android in places I didn't expect to see it in," Rubin said at Google I/O. A good example is Google TV, which is composed of Android running on an Intel processor with a browser on top of it. As I wrote at the time of its launch, Android's adaptability is what makes it special.From e-readers to set-top boxes to cars, and even refrigerators, the OS has shown tremendous adaptability. By offering it for free (with some strings attached), Google has made it possible for all sorts of hardware makers to tinker with Android.
As such, it makes sense for Google to marshal its resources behind Android the way Apple has done with the iPhone OS. What then of Chrome?
"Android has evolved over the past four years and Chrome OS hasn't launched just yet, so it's an unfair comparison," Rubin said in response to a question at last week's conference, where he was asked to do just that. I took his comment to mean that Google was purposefully following a dual strategy. When I asked why, Gundotra candidly admitted that it's a strategy the company may adjust down the road—specifically, that there might be a way for the two technologies to converge.
for tablets, Chrome OS must change
This would make sense in a touch-centric, tablet-based world. Imagine Android running the Chrome browser in order to offer a panoply of Internet apps via the Web-based app store that co-founder Sergey Brin described at Google I/O—although when veteran scribe Dan Gillmor asked about an Android tablet, Rubin and Gundotra both dodged the question.
One of the reasons Chrome OS is taking a back seat to Android may be hardware-related. Chrome OS was initially introduced as a platform for netbooks. If the market is shifting to tablets, Google will have to make significant changes in order to make Chrome OS finger-friendly.
Folks in the know tell me that Google bought Canadian user-interface innovator BumpTop so that it can build a unique user interface on top of Android for Google's GPad, which could be offered to hardware makers as reference design. That could be just what Android needs in order to compete with Apple and its iPad in the tablet market.
I've long been wary of Chrome OS. It could suffer from Google-itis, whereby its underpinning would be the company's identification system and it would always favor Google Web apps. Given that Google lacks presence in the social web, Chrome OS would lack social sense and sensibility.
For comparison, look at the JoliCloud OS, which is fully socially aware and uses Facebook Connect as a way to bridge various components with a user's social graph. That's what a modern OS for cloud clients should look like.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want to dislike Chrome OS. I just think Google needs to pick a winning horse. Clearly the winner here is Android.
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