According to Ubergizmo, Google is currently working on a Android based laptop, which would be revealed sometime later this year. This would be yet another attempt by Google to break into the desktop market, while it already has a decent hold on the tablet and smartphone markets. However, there’s just one thing wrong with the idea of an Android-powered laptop: the Chromebook.
When Sundar Pichai of the Chrome project took charge of Android, we believed it might signify an upcoming unification of Chrome OS and Android into a singular product, except for the fact that Eric Schmidt has explicitly stated that Chrome OS and Android won’t merge.
As a result, if Google really does release an Android based laptop in addition to the current Chromebooks, it will only cause confusion. Chrome OS is already confusing enough on its own, because it is a computer OS that only comes on laptops, runs just a browser, and only uses web apps. It doesn’t run Android apps, but the touchscreen Chromebook Pixel makes Chrome OS seem more like a mobile OS, almost like Windows 8. Personally I think Chrome OS can actually be quite useful, but to most people it is at least a little confusing.
Of course, the easy explanation for Chrome OS is that it is a lightweight OS designed to connect people to Google’s various services and the internet in general so that they can be served ads. This is also true, however, of Android. Basically, both services do different things, but the differences are slight. Android has the advantage of running a number of Android apps, but Chrome OS has a more powerful browser and is better suited to larger displays. Still, the big picture goal is to get you to use Google’s services, and both Chrome OS and Android are quite effective at that.
In essence, the similarity of Chrome OS and Android is the reason that an Android based laptop would be a bad idea. If Google is in fact intent on keeping Chrome OS and Android separate as Schmidt has said, then an Android-based laptop would result in Google offering two different types of laptops with very similar but not identical features. It would be almost akin to selling two different laptops, one with Windows 7 and the other with Windows 8, except that many apps won’t work between the two.
With both a Chrome OS and Android based laptop on the market, there would be no clear argument for either. The Android based laptop could run Android apps, but the Chrome OS device would have a better browser. That is hardly a huge difference, but Google would be maintaining two separate hardware and software projects to offer two very similar products. Even if all this did was cause a little confusion, it simply wouldn’t make sense for Google to use the resources needed offer two different laptop platforms.
Because of the similarity of Chrome OS and Android, there seems to be only one clear outcome if Google makes an Android based laptop: Either Chrome OS or the Android based laptop won’t sell, and will eventually be discontinued. Right now, there is seemingly no compelling or significant reason to choose one or the other, so it seems inevitable that one would go out of style. Since Android already has the mobile market share, Chrome OS seems the likeliest to collapse.
I realize now that my title may have been a little bit misleading. I actually love the idea of a universal OS for smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even desktops, with great syncing and compatibility, which a Google solution would likely provide. The problem I have with an Android based laptop is that it would result in Google having too many of essentially the same products, a problem that they have had in the past. (How many separate/pseudo-integrated Google messaging services are there right now?)
Providing there is no massive technical barrier (Chrome OS already runs on ARM), it would make quite a bit of sense for Google to integrate the Chrome OS interface and browser into Android for a desktop mode. However, the idea of Google taking take Android, building another desktop UI, developing new hardware, and marketing a new product that is extremely similar to one they already have just doesn’t make much sense. Either combine them into one product, or keep their functions distinct. Then again, I wouldn’t be too opposed to the idea of Chrome OS running Android apps…